The New Westminster school board has reached out to local families in the wake of its controversial decision to end the police liaison program in schools.
A letter from board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal went out to district families on April 28 to address the decision, which was first made at the April 13 education committee and finalized at the April 27 board meeting.
“This was not an easy decision to make. But it is an important one as we consider how we meaningfully engage in conversations around anti-racism. If we are going to address the systemic racism that is hurting people who live, work and learn in our community, then we also have to consider where we can change the systems that we affect,” Dhaliwal wrote.
“As a board, we’re proud of the fact that, in this case, we were able to centre the voices of BIPOC community members, in an actionable way.”
The decision has stirred up considerable discussion on social media and in the community, with some commenters lauding the board for the action and others criticizing the decision-making process and the removal of police.
“So glad to see New West not shying away from doing the right thing despite critics that are vocally insisting they know best. … Overwhelming evidence shows that police in schools are not beneficial overall but detrimental to many vulnerable groups of kids, and is left over from a harmful 'war on drugs policy'.
"Very proud to be a New Westminsterite today,” wrote one commenter in a Record Facebook thread.
Others were less convinced.
“This is a terrible decision, it sends the wrong signal to the community and to the children that there is something wrong with the police force. This seeds the wrong ideas in young minds not to trust police or to look up to them. I think this is was done more out of a knee jerk reaction to a small faction of people that have issues with the police. This will just cause further mistrust of the police not build a better relationship with them,” said another commenter.
Dhaliwal’s letter stresses that the school district will continue to have a relationship with the New Westminster Police Department.
“When it comes to safety of students – to addressing critical incidents, emergencies or any other number of cases where the police may be the best partners to work with – we will continue to work in close collaboration with the New Westminster Police,” the letter said.
It also said district staff will be working on recommendations about where there may be community partners, local organizations or the district’s own staff who can take on some of the work previously done by the liaison officers.
“In a world that has seen considerable change and growth in the number of community groups who do great work, we want to make sure the right partner is delivering the right support to students and staff,” Dhaliwal wrote.
The issue will return to the June 8 education committee meeting, when staff will report back on the district's plans for developing its new relationship with the NWPD.