Safety plan to bring police officers into schools
TORONTO - A new school safety initiative will bring 170 psychologists, social workers, youth workers and attendance counsellors to Ontario schools, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne announced Wednesday.
"If we don't have the human resources in our schools, then it doesn't matter what the legislation and policies are. We have to have people,'' said Wynne.
The province will also assign 18 police officers to work with school boards in Toronto, London, and Hamilton.
Long-standing concerns about bullying and the fatal shooting last May of 15-year old Jordan Manners in the hallway of his Toronto high school have spurred repeated calls to step up school safety.
Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter said the addition of the 18 officers will address those concerns.
"Parents need to be assured that their child's school is free from bullying and other anti-social behaviours,'' he said.
Toronto Catholic District School Board chair Oliver Carroll welcomed the funding for both the social workers and police officers. He said the social workers will help integrate problem students into the school system more effectively.
"We have a lot of kids that may end up facing a suspension or expulsion that these people can help,'' he said. "The problem with suspensions and expulsions is that they tend to become very black and white.''
Carroll said he expects the social workers to help advise school boards on disciplinary alternatives that would keep kids in the classroom. And he said the police officers will play a big role in breaking down traditional barriers between students and police.
"To a large degree, it's like community policing,'' he said. "If you know the guy who's there you're more likely to say 'You, know, officer, I saw something.' ''
Bringing community workers to schools will come at an annual cost of $10.5 million. The police initiative, meanwhile, is funded on a one-time basis to the tune of $1.7 million.
Garfield Dunlop, the Conservative community safety critic, said the government has a poor record on school safety and is trying to cover up by making funding announcements as the Oct. 10 provincial election approaches.
"The reality is that when you look at the overall picture, they haven't accomplished a lot,'' he said.
Dunlop also criticized the Liberals for not providing more details on what the specific roles of the social workers and police officers will be.
But Wynne and Kwinter both said those decisions are best made locally.
"We need to provide (school) boards with flexibility so they can hire professionals and paraprofessionals and find services in order to provide programs,'' said Wynne.