Throughout 2022, the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) embarked on a research project that brought teachers who Identify as Aboriginal or Indigenous, Black, and people of colour together to learn about their experiences and perspectives on police in schools. The project used Indigenous-led talking circles to ensure all voices were heard and to help develop a shared vision for creating and sustaining safe, healthy, and equitable schools for all students, teachers, and staff.
The final report that centres the voices of these members who are Aboriginal or Indigenous, Black, and people of colour can be read in full here. Their contributions, including the sharing of deeply personal stories, will help make BC schools safer for all of us. All BCTF members and the public are encouraged to read the report in full and reflect on how they can take action to make schools safer and more inclusive.
Throughout this research project, it became clear that BC teachers have a range of perspectives, experiences, stories, and responses when it comes to police presence in schools. The unequivocal conclusion, however, is that too many teachers and students have and continue to experience harm. This fact means we cannot justify the continuation of policing programs in BC schools.
In November 2022, the BC Human Rights Commissioner also took this position, stating in a letter to the BC School Trustees Association, “the use of School Liaison Officers (SLOs) in British Columbian schools 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.”
The Commissioner went on to say, “SLOs contribute to a sense of criminalization and surveillance in schools, especially disadvantaging marginalized students.” Our own research found that teachers in BC who are part of these marginalized communities experience similar sentiments, which make their workplaces feel less safe for them.
Here is what some members who are Aboriginal or Indigenous, Black, and people of colour had to say about their experiences with police in schools.
“I just try to stay under the radar—not talk to them, not engage. I would not feel comfortable having them in my classroom or around my students or in the hallways with me… when I see them, I feel small.”
“I just feel a lot of discomfort and I just don’t feel safe. I have a lot of anxiety. I feel like I just kind of shut down, like I just- I don’t feel safe in the presence of police.”
“When I had the police come into my teaching space, I was terrified, but I couldn’t tell the kids. I could not tell the kids. I was so terrified when the schools had set up having police come in and do all of this. I was thinking, why do we need to have this?”
The fear, discomfort, and disruption that police in schools cause for some members is not experienced by all. However, that does not in any way negate the harm or need to change.
As the conversations in the talking circles continued, some of the teachers who are Aboriginal or Indigenous, Black, and people of colour did express concern that removing SLOs from schools would take away a much-needed adult and resource for some students. In particular, several school counsellors described feeling worried about their ability to help students without having access to an SLO because of their overwhelming workload and lack of alternatives to get a student help and support.
The lack of supports for teachers, school counsellors, and others working to support students is an ongoing cause for concern and indicative of a public education system that has been underfunded and understaffed for too long. However, as teachers in the research project and the BC Human Rights Commissioner stated, those supports and services could be replaced by other professionals in schools like counsellors, social workers, Aboriginal support workers, and others who provide localized community services. If this were done, it would mean access to those supports without the harm currently experienced by some staff and students due to the presence of SLOs.
Instead of relying on or insisting on police in schools, the government and school districts should ensure there are appropriate academic, social, health, and emotional support services in place that are:
- fully funded.
- grounded in local communities.
- based on a holistic view of student well-being.
- focused on families and communities.
- responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable students.
- founded in restorative and transformative approaches.
Participants of varying perspectives acknowledged the contentious nature of this topic and discussed how it has and continues to be polarizing amongst colleagues and in our communities. The BCTF is committed to helping teachers and others in BC's public education system move forward and stand in solidarity with those who are Aboriginal or Indigenous, Black, and people of colour who have and continue to experience real harm because of police in schools.
Turning words of solidarity into action means replacing SLOs with other professionals working to build understanding throughout the province that we can do better than the status quo. To start, all teachers and community members are encouraged once again to Policing in Schools final report in full.
Here are the key findings of the research report to help summarize the Issues and way forward.
History matters and continues to be lived
The historical role policing has had—and continues to have—within a settler colonial context caused harm and created a deep mistrust that persists and continues to impact participants in multiple ways in their day-to-day teaching. Understanding this truth is a necessary starting point for a conversation around police in schools.
Many participants described feeling uncomfortable, intimidated, fearful, and unsafe with police presence in schools. These fears were most strongly articulated by Indigenous participants.
Ongoing police violence experienced within Aboriginal or Indigenous, Black, and people of colour communities makes its way into the daily lives of teachers and students, negatively impacting their teaching and learning conditions as well as their overall well-being.
Student needs within a chronically underfunded public education system cannot be met by funding School Liaison Officers
BC teachers and school counsellors want the best for their students. Unfortunately, they are working in an underfunded system marked by insufficient staffing, inadequate resources, and an expectation to do more with less. Many school counsellors shared feeling their efforts are “just a band-aid solution at best” as there is so much need but insufficient time, personnel, and support.
Police in schools has helped fill gaps in this under-resourced system. Many school counsellors shared how their school based SLO was an indispensable resource to them. Several school counsellors described feeling worried about their ability to help students without having access to a SLO.
Austerity has consequences. The horizon of what is possible for creating schools that embody systems of support and care has been limited by decades of underfunding. The fix is not police in schools, but the necessary funding to create spaces that truly support all without harming any.
Teachers understand how schools can embody care and meet student needs
Safe, healthy, and equitable schools are fully funded schools, grounded in community, that embody a holistic approach to students’ academic, emotional, social, and physical well-being. Students’ families and the community at large are part of school culture and day-to-day activities. Schools are not cut off from the broader community in which they are situated and must serve as a welcoming and inviting space for families and elders. Schools are designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in their community. They nourish students, providing them ways to be and learn “in all the ways that learning can happen,” as one participant shared.
For many participants, particularly those most negatively impacted by policing, achieving the schools described above is not possible, and cannot be fully realized, if police are present.