Ontario’s Education Minister sent a stern message to school boards on Thursday, saying he expects them to welcome police officers into their buildings to participate in classroom events.
In a memo e-mailed to school board chairs and education directors on Thursday, Stephen Lecce wrote that educators are “enabling division instead of bringing all segments of civil society together.”
His comments follow two incidents last week where police officers with children at schools in the province were told they couldn’t speak to students if they wore their uniforms.
“I am writing to set out in the clearest terms my expectation that these parents, and others who proudly wear uniforms as part of their occupation, are to be welcomed to attend career fairs, Bring Your Parent to School Day, and other similar engagements that take place in schools.,” Mr. Lecce wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
He wrote that parents have the “right to participate” in their children’s school experience.
“This is a right that is non-negotiable for any parent, including those who serve in uniform, from law enforcement to the Canadian Forces,” Mr. Lecce wrote.
It is unclear how the minister would circumvent existing school board policies around police officers in schools.
One of the incidents last week involved a police officer who was initially barred from wearing their uniform to a career day event. The Grand Erie District School Board, in Brantford, Ont., apologized last week and said the parent was welcome in the classroom.
The other 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.
In a social media post last week, Premier Doug Ford said the incidents were a “disturbing trend” and called on the Ottawa board specifically to reverse its policy on police officers in schools and “show our heroes on the front lines the respect they deserve.”
Michele Giroux, the OCDSB’s director of education, spoke with the Ottawa Police Association on Monday and plans to meet with the city’s chief of police. The board, like many others, passed a motion in 2021 to end the School Resource Officer program. The motion meant that police would be contacted in an emergency, but that uniformed officers would not be in school “providing direct learning to students,” Ms. Giroux wrote to the police association last week.
The practice of having uniformed officers in schools has been controversial. Some say it contributes to a sense of safety, but students from racialized and marginalized communities have said they felt intimated, targeted and uncomfortable with a police presence.