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Guelph school board to consider reviewing police presence

The trustees will consider the proposal on Tuesday.

Guelph’s public school board will consider establishing a task-force charged with reviewing the presence of police officers in its buildings following complaints lodged by members of the community identifying as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour.

A police officer looks on as protestors march in downtown Guelph on June 6, 2020. GUELPHWIRE/Eli Ridder

The eighth agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting will be brought forward by the chair. It will ask trustees to approve the creation of the Police Presence in Schools Task Force that will include seven community members, three staff members and three trustees.

The search for the community members will start immediately if the proposal is passed and trustees will be chosen at a later June meeting.

“Over the past two weeks, both staff and trustees have received numerous emails and phone calls regarding police presence in schools,” a report from Chair Martha MacNeil said.

“Specifically, the emails and calls have suggested that police have been targeting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) students and have demanded that the Upper Grand District School Board end its partnership with the Guelph Police Services.”

“The Upper Grand District School Board takes these allegations seriously and is committed to a learning environment where BIPOC students, staff, and families feel safe.”

The effort would be required to bring forward recommendations before the entire board “no later than December 2020.”

GuelphWire reached out for comment from several trustees who directed inquires to MacNeil. UGDSB spokesperson Heather Loney repeated the same statement as was given in MacNeil’s report in response.

A few thousand demonstrators marched through the streets of Guelph on June 6 in support of the Black Lives Matter anti-racism movement, with speakers rallying protesters against police violence and calling for systemic change.

“Today we are here to stand for something we believe in. It is enough of the police brutality and the violence that our BIPOC community faces,” organizer Kayla “Kween” Gerber told a roaring, diverse crowd during the march.

The demonstration took place in tandem with gatherings across the country, and around the world, continuing the momentum that started with the killing of George Floyd — an African-American — at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis in late May.

This sign was at the Guelph Black Lives Matter rally on June 6, 2020. GUELPHWIRE/Eli Ridder

Many of these protests have included calls for a significant decrease in police funding with more funds allocated towards public health initiatives and services that offer support for the vulnerable in a community, such as illicit drug addicts and those who are homeless.

One of the only levers municipalities have over local police departments in Canada and the United States is annual fiscal budgets, with some cities using funding to find new ways to tackle public safety and leading to a “defund the police” movement growing in some communities.

Should the Upper Grand District School Board remove police from the hallways and classrooms of the institutions it oversees in the Guelph and Puslinch areas, it would not be the first to cut ties since Floyd’s death on May 25.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin as three other officers looked on, the local school board decided in early June to terminate its relationship with the police department.

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