NOTE: This story was updated on June 24 with more information from the June 22 school board meeting.
Eighty-three per cent of people who responded to a New Westminster school district survey felt police liaison officers should be in schools.
That’s one of the findings from the results of a parent survey that have now been made public. A report on those results was included in the agenda for the Tuesday, June 22 school board meeting.
The school board formally voted on April 27 to end the child and youth liaison officer program that had, up until the 2020/21 school year, seen three officers attached to School District 40 schools: one for NWSS, one for the district’s elementary and middle schools, and one for alternate programs and other community support. The positions were all funded by the New Westminster Police Department.
The school liaison officers were temporarily reassigned to other duties this past school year while the school district undertook a review of the program in light of the concerns over the potential harm to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) students and staff from the presence of police in schools.
The decision to cancel the program sparked a strong reaction in the community, with many objecting to the fact that results of a parent survey on the issue were not yet known by the time the decision was made.
Trustee Maya Russell, who chairs the board’s education committee, promised at the June 8 committee meeting that the survey results would be made public – noting at the time that the survey was strongly in favour of keeping the program.
The June 22 staff report shows that, of the 839 survey respondents, a total of 83% felt police officers should be in schools: 65% felt the officers should stay with no changes to the program, while 17% felt officers should stay with changes to the program.
The survey respondents were given the option to answer a question about their ethnocultural identity. Of those who responded, 53% self-identified as white, 44% as BIPOC (4% Black, 5% Indigenous), and 3% other.
SURVEY HAD LIMITATIONS
The report, however, notes some limitations of the survey, including the fact that the question on ethnocultural identification was optional, “reducing the ability to specifically capture all BIPOC perspectives.”
It also points out that community members who already feel marginalized or who struggle with language may not have participated and that many respondents had a “limited understanding” of the current child and youth liaison officer program.
“Surveys are only a part of the narrative: a balance of quantitative and qualitative data is important,” the report says. “Data demands judgment.”
The report notes that about three-quarters of survey respondents provided additional comments in answer to at least one of the survey’s open-ended questions. But it doesn’t elaborate on respondents’ answers to those questions – which included asking about the benefits and challenges of having liaison officers in schools.
SURVEY ONLY PART OF THE PICTURE
At the June 22 school board meeting, the report was acknowledged on the agenda but was not formally discussed.
During the trustee reports period at the end of the meeting, trustee Mary Lalji said parents, students and staff have been expressing concern about the process the board took to make its decision. Lalji was the lone trustee to vote against cancelling the liaison officer program.
“Why didn’t the board follow the process they originally laid out? When the board specifically asks for more consultation, then disregards all the data from the consultation process, parents and students and staff felt their insight and experience was not valued," she said. “I believe as a board we can do better. We will do better.”
But trustee Danielle Connelly objected to Lalji's comments.
“I think it is highly unfair for you to comment on that and tell us that we can do better," she said. “Actually, I think we did better.”
Connelly noted that, as a parent, she too received and replied to the survey.
"I answered it in a certain way. In my head I knew, I thought I knew, what the answer to it was, and I came out of this with a very different opinion," she said.
"There was a lot more information that came out throughout the process, and I think that that is what a lot of our decisions were weighted on as well.
“So it’s a lot bigger than saying we disregarded information. I think that’s really, really a very small piece.”
She said the process revealed a real issue, and that's a lack of funding for a lot of the problems that parents feel police are fixing in the school system.
PARENTS FELT UNHEARD
Kathleen Carlsen, who serves on the district parent advisory council, told trustees the survey results left her with questions.
“My thought is, if 65% of respondents felt police officers should be in school, why was there no more consultation or education?" she said.
“I really acknowledge and understand there was a lot more involved on behalf of the school trustees, but what the parent population sees is their voices and concerns not being heard.”
Carlsen said more education about the reasons behind the board's decision would be helpful.
"More importantly, parents want to know how their children are going to be kept safe," she said, noting they're not reassured by hearing that discussions with the New Westminster Police Department are ongoing. “They want to know right now what’s going to happen, not what’s going to happen in six months.”
Superintendent Karim Hachlaf said student and staff safety is not being compromised, noting that procedures for violent-threat risk assessments, safety plans and emergency procedures are all in place.
“In no way is our safety protocols being compromised," he said. "There is no delay. There is no compromise to the safety of staff and students.”
Hachlaf said discussions with the NWPD centre on the "educational component" of the child and youth liaison officer program. While police officers have delivered a number of programs and information sessions to students in the past, Hachlaf said the district is now reaching out to other community partners that can also fill that gap.
For background reading:
A lengthy staff report on the school district's review of the child and youth liaison officer program was included in the agenda package for the April 13 education committee meeting.
A letter from board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal outlining the board's decision was also sent to school district families and can be found on the district's website.