Abandoning evidence-based
decision-making in education

TORONTO – Parents expect their children to be in a safe school learning environment. For more than 25 years, the School Resource Officer program (SRO)/School Liaison Officer (SLO) program at the Halton Catholic School Board (HCDSB) has offered an opportunity to encourage a safe, orderly and welcoming environment for student well-being and achievement. However, that program may cease to exist, even before essential data is collected and assessed to determine whether the program has fulfilled its mandate.

Last week, the HCDSB voted in favour (5-4) of a motion to pause the SRO program until more information is gathered from (racialized) community groups, parents, students, staff and police services to determine the program’s effectiveness. The programs are designed to develop positive relationships with youth and enhance the safety and security in the school community. They have evolved over the years with the aim to prevent victimization and violence throughout the school community through social development. Reaction was swift to the pause of the SRO program. It also raises the issue of a potential conflict since the mover of the motion is currently facing 12 fraud charges in relation to her previous employment with LiUNA.

A ratepayer and retired HCDSB teacher with over 30 years experience wrote a Letter to the Editor to convey frustration and to underscore the importance of evidence-based data in the decision making process. She expressed her opinion in the letter published below.

December 7 – A sad day for Halton Catholic Schools. Trustee Nancy Guzzo put forth a motion to suspend the School Liaison Officers (SLOs) program. Newly elected chair Marvin Duarte cast the deciding vote to pause the program at the HCDSB.

They claim is that SLOs in Halton are “doing harm” and “marginalizing racialized groups” at HCDSB. Where is the hard data to indicate that this is occurring?

As a teacher with 30+ years experience in regular classrooms and special education, my experience with community liaison officers was a positive one. Female officers visited my classes building positive relationship with students, offering sound advice on a variety of topics: drugs, alcohol, internet/social media safety, bullying, human trafficking, and mental health.

I have witnessed first hand police officers of many ethnic backgrounds interacting with students at lunch, playing hoops, hanging out, visiting life skills, being present at community building events. I was always grateful for the invaluable support, insights and collaboration which police officers provided in helping me to deal with students in crisis.

The prospect of eliminating this program means teachers and administrators will not have available to them this resource, one which benefits students directly and the absence of which will result in an overall negative effect on the whole student body.

The five trustees who voted to suspend this positive program should have waited for data to be collected from stakeholders on the interactions and perceptions of SLOs before making a determination on the effectiveness of its mandate.

Supervisory Officer Cordeiro, in his report, stated that HCDSB principals and vice principals confirmed an overall positive experience with the SLO program. Nonetheless, Guzzo unilaterally dismissed this finding as being “anecdotal evidence coming from groups of staff who are white and in power.”

It would have been prudent to wait for data to be collected to determine the impact of the SLO Program on students, particularly those of colour, racial, indigenous origins or with disabilities. It is my opinion that trustees Agnew, Duarte, Guzzo, Murphy, O’Hearn-Czarnota who voted to suspend this program have jumped to conclusions without any supporting data that justifies their position and decision”.

Maria Bassi

(P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

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