Ontario Premier Doug Ford called it a “disturbing trend” that two police officers with children at schools in the province were not allowed to participate in classroom events to speak about their jobs.
One of the incidents involved a police officer in the Ottawa area who was told by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board that she could not speak at an event hosted by her child’s Grade 1 class if she wore her uniform.
The other happened at the Grand Erie District School Board, in Brantford, Ont., where a police officer was told not to participate in a school’s career day event. The board apologized on Tuesday and said the parent was welcome in the classroom.
The Premier weighed in on the incidents on social media Thursday, saying that police “deserve so much better than this.”
“I’m calling on the @OCDSB to immediately reverse this policy and show our heroes on the frontlines the respect they deserve,” Mr. Ford wrote on Twitter, referring to the Ottawa-Carleton board.
The Ottawa-area parent was invited by the school to share her work experience but asked to do so without wearing her uniform or arriving in a police vehicle.
The practice of having uniformed officers in schools has been controversial. Some say it contributes to a sense of safety in schools, but students from racialized and marginalized communities have said they felt intimated, targeted and uncomfortable with police in their buildings.
Several school boards, including the OCDSB and the Toronto District School Board, have ended the School Resource Officer program in recent years. Meanwhile, newly elected Vancouver School Board trustees voted in November to reinstate the program, part of a campaign promise by a slate of trustees that holds the majority of seats on the board.
Matthew Cox, president of the Ottawa Police Association, which represents more than 2,100 officers, said in an interview on Thursday that a school in Stittsville, southwest of the capital, had invited parents whose work involved helping the community. The police officer was told by the school in an e-mail earlier this week that she could only speak to a Grade 1 class in plainclothes and that the decision was dictated by the board’s policy.
She declined the invitation, Mr. Cox said.
“Police officers should receive the same support and respect as any other profession that has been invited to speak to your students,” Mr. Cox wrote in a letter to the school board on Wednesday, which was made public by the association on Twitter.
Mr. Cox said he was “disappointed” with how the school board handled the situation. He would like the policy amended so that police officers can speak at schools wearing their uniforms.
“It shouldn’t be the police only coming in for enforcement measures. The police should be coming in when they have the opportunity to do these types of events, where they’re speaking to the kids in a positive light,” he said.
Michele Giroux, the school board’s director of education, said in an e-mail statement on Thursday that she appreciated the concerns raised by the officers’ union and plans to meet Mr. Cox next week to discuss policing in schools.
“Our priority is to work collaboratively with the Ottawa Police to develop protocols that support student learning and school safety and are responsive to the community concerns,” Ms. Giroux stated.
The Ottawa board passed a motion in 2021 to end the School Resource Officer program. The motion meant that police would be contacted in an emergency, but uniformed officers would not be in school “providing direct learning to students,” Ms. Giroux wrote in a letter to Mr. Cox on Thursday. (The letter was shared with media.)
“There will be some who say that the easy path forward is to allow the parent to attend in uniform; others will maintain that uniforms and police cars are not essential to classroom learning about policing,” she wrote.
She added that discussions with the police association “will need to reflect on the concerns that the community raised during our police involvement in schools review, with an intentional commitment on the part of both parties to building new practices.”