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Community stresses importance of BIPOC voices when discussing police presence in schools

Police Presence In Our Schools Town Hall meeting on Tuesday reached out to the community for their input
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Marva Wisdom (right), community member and external co-chair of UGDSB police task force moderated the virtual townhall meeting on Oct. 20.

Many in the community stressed the importance of hearing BIPOC voices when making a decision regarding police presence in schools. 

The Upper Grand District School Board’s Police Presence In Our Schools Town Hall meeting on Tuesday evening saw over 136 community members participate in the community discussion through the platform Thoughtexchange, a crowdsourcing platform that allows thoughts to be anonymously shared and rated by participants. 

The town hall was moderated by Marva Wisdom, community leader and external co-chair of the UGDSB police task force. 

“It is important to the UGDSB trustees and staff that a safe venue be provided to confidentially hear all voices, ideas and opinions without bias or oppression,” said Cheryl Van Ooteghem, superintendent of education.

The board first collected demographic data on the participants and then asked the community to answer two questions. First, “What are your thoughts about the role and impact that police presence has in the UGDSB school community?” and second, “After our discussion this evening, what additional feedback do you have for the Task Force to consider going forward?”

“We have to be mindful of the relationship that some of the students/families in our schools have had with police. It is important because this impacts interactions,” read the top-rated feedback for the first question. 

“The presence of police could negatively impact students in marginalized groups.This is because police are authority figures with a lot of power so personal predigest could be harmful to some students in ways that impact learning,” read another.

Feedback for the second question showed a lot of support for the BIPOC community. 

“Ensure that BIPOC lived experiences are considered. Because these voices are often dismissed and/or silenced,” read the top feedback.

“Be comfortable with not deciding based on majority. If there is a group of people who do not feel safe with police presence in schools, that should not be discounted. Do not ignore the marginalized,” read another. 

Van Ooteghem said since July the task force — composed of two trustees, one student trustee, three staff members and eight community members across the UGDSB geographical area — has been gathering information from staff, students,  researchers, police and the community.

The purpose of the town hall was to gather information from the community to produce a report and provide options and recommendations to the UGDSB trustees who will make a decision of police presence in schools no later than Dec. 31. 

Community members who wish to give their input can complete an online survey until 4 p.m. on Oct. 26. 

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work to ensure that we are at this point where we can gather information with great data including presentations related to mental health, equity, psychology, first nations Métis and Inuit populations,” said Wisdom. 

She clarified that the task force is tasked to review police presence in UGDSB schools, ensure as many voices are heard from all geographical areas of UGDSB schools, ensure the UGDSB task force process is anti-oppressive, inclusive, informed and transparent, gather background information of history of police presence in schools, review input of police presence in schools and their impact on all students, families and staff with considering racialized students, socioeconomic status, LGBTQIA+ community and mental health.

Defunding and funding the police will not be part of these conversations. 

“This town hall of course, we intend to facilitate a robust and collaborative engagement process of hearing front he community with special attention to the community with voices that are too often not heard, said Wisdom. 

“As I watch the live stream of comments and thoughts come through, I have to say that I was very appreciative of the respect, the honesty and the thoughtfulness of which people responded. Thank you,” said Van Ooteghem.