RCMP officer's vest. (file photo)

The battle over school liaison officers continues in Penticton

Concerns raised by marginalized American students is the reason for the B.C. commissioner’s response

At the same time Penticton RCMP plan to increase the number of liaison officers in schools, the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner has called for the program to be discontinued.

B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner has issued a letter to the BC School Trustees Association about human rights concerns related to the use of RCMP School Liaison Officers (SLOs) in B.C. schools.

This announcement comes two weeks after Penticton RCMP said it is expanding its presence in Penticton and Summerland schools “in an effort to develop more positive relationships between students and police.”

In her letter, Commissioner Kasari Govender reiterates her recommendation that the use of SLOs be ended by all school districts, unless and until they can demonstrate an evidence-based need for them that cannot be met through other services.

“I strongly recommend that all school districts end the use of SLOs until the impact of these programs can be established empirically,” Govender said.

In the letter, Govender highlights significant concerns raised by marginalized American students, their families and communities about harm caused by police presence in schools. While there is a lack of research in Canada about the impact of SLO programs on Indigenous, Black and other minority students, American research has found that SLOs contribute to a sense of criminalization and surveillance in schools, especially disadvantaging marginalized students.

Police officers walking the hallways of Central Okanagan public schools have widespread approval based on an informal survey done by school district staff in 2021.

The results showed 91 per cent positive response to police liaison officers in the schools from parents, 90.6 per cent from staff and 93 per cent from students.

READ MORE: RCMP presence welcomed in Central Okanagan public schools

“For school boards who choose not to take this step, it is incumbent on you to produce independent evidence of a need for SLOs that cannot be met through civilian alternatives and to explain the actions you are taking to address the concerns raised by Indigenous, Black and other marginalized communities,” she concluded.

SD67 school board chair James Palanio said they will discuss this at their next meeting.

Two weeks ago, the Penticton RCMP also announced the appointment of Jo Anne Ruppenthal to the role of Restorative Justice coordinator as of Nov. 9.

Ruppenthal will provide support to schools through educational initiatives focused on strengthening relationships through mediation and restitution within school communities.

READ MORE: Penticton RCMP increasing the amount of liaison officers in schools

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