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UGDSB defers decision on police presence task force over technical issues

The trustees deferred the decision to next week's meeting.

Several trustees at Guelph’s public school board expressed support Tuesday for the creation of a task force to review police presence in its buildings but a motion to approve the proposal failed after trustees pointed out several technical and procedural issues.

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The motion to establish the Police Presence in Schools Task Force — which would be required to give recommendations by December — will return to a regular meeting of the trustees next week where it is expected to pass, barring further procedural issues.

The proposal came about after complaints were filed by members of the community who identify as Black, Indigenous or persons of colour, known as BIPOC.

The task force will include trustees, staff members and members of the community.

“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. MacNeil was the trustee who brought forward the motion.

“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.”

Due to several technical issues, Trustee Linda Busuttil said that she was unable to support the proposal as it stood and, because it was a special meeting, she couldn’t put forward amendments until the next meeting.

Busuttil and at least three other trustees present expressed support for the concept but said she would like the full motion to create the task force to be “tightened up” and include details that were missing, such as the specification that the task force would cover UGDSB schools outside of Guelph and the inclusion of student trustees.

The motion proposed on Tuesday. GUELPHWIRE/Eli Ridder

Trustee Mike Foley proposed an addition to the motion to include holding am inclusive virtual town hall on police presence in schools.

“It is imperative that we listen to the community … we want people to be heard,” Foley told GuelphWire on Tuesday night following the meeting.

“People just feel like their voices aren’t being heard and I want them to be heard and this is how they can be heard. This is probably the best way to develop a true transparency.”

“Not only do people need to be heard, but they need to feel that their opinions are valued,” Foley added.

The meeting on Tuesday also included a report on an equity plan that brought about frank discussions on racism and discrimination worldwide and locally.

The plan recommended continuing work to foster inclusivity in the board’s Guelph and area schools through policy and collaborative relationships, while acknowledging shortcomings.

For example, proposals included the advice to train coaches not to divide teams by gender, to push forward with inclusive washrooms and include halal food options in cafeterias.

Questions led the conversation from dress codes to homeless students but the meeting remained centred on equity throughout the school board. 

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.

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 with police 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. Nearby, the Waterloo Region District School Board decided to suspend its police presence pending a review.