Students at Northern Secondary School have decided to go ahead with a planned rally later this week to protest a Toronto police program that places officers in the classroom.

Organizers of the protest say they decided to hold the protest against the wishes of school officials to allow the public to speak out on the issue.

Students were in talks Monday with local school trustee Josh Matlow to hold a formal debate on the issue instead of taking their fight to the street. Talks broke down Monday afternoon after Matlow suggested a closed meeting between classroom representatives and school officials.

"We really need to have a public, open and publicized consultation for all members of the community to attend," said grade 12 student Harrison Jordan.

Matlow, whose ward includes Northern, said he wasn't opposed to having an open meeting on the topic but that planning it would take time.

Jordan and two Northern students helped organize the demonstration after an officer arrested a teen on school property earlier this month after he failed to show proper identification proving his enrollment at the school.

The teen, who was indeed a student at Northern, resisted arrest and got into an altercation with the police officer. The arrest was videotaped and put on YouTube.

Protest organizer Willie Wilson told the protest is not about the specific incident but rather the School Resource Officer program in its entirety.

The arrest shouldn't have happened in the first place and wouldn't have happened if the officer was not in the school to begin with, he said.

Though he's not a student at Northern, the incident caught the attention of Jordan who attends nearby Forest Hill Collegiate. He contacted Wilson and together with a third student began planning the demonstration for this Thursday at 11:30 p.m.

"I'm involved because of the systemic issues with the SRO program," Jordan told in a telephone interview. "It's really cause for concern because there is no proper justification for the program."

He said the program has expanded over the last two years and could come to his school next.

SRO initiative

The SRO program was introduced to the Toronto District School Board by the police about two years ago. Under the initiative, officers are assigned to a school in their division to help patrol the hallways and ensure a safe environment.

The goal of the program is not only to enhance security at schools across the city but also to build positive rapport with youth in the community.

Jordan said there is a time and a place to build on community relations and inside a school might not be the best option.

"We are in agreement that schools need to remain safe and we do accept the fact that there needs to be positive relations between students and the police force but school hallways are not efficient venues to do this," he said. "If police officers want to take part in after-school programs or community programs to strengthen ties, that is alright."

The SRO program was put in place shortly after human rights lawyer Julian Falconer released a report on school safety in the city. In the report, Falconer made dozens of recommendations, none of which had anything to do with turning police officers into hallways monitors, Jordan said.

Jordan said students also have a problem with the fact that the TDSB does not have an official policy on the SRO program and that trustees did not vote in the initiative.

But Trustee Matlow says the school board did in fact debate the issue when it was introduced.

Matlow said he tried to tell the students they could make a change by having an organized discussion with stakeholders of the program.

"We need informed, thoughtful and respectful dialogue," he said. "Their views will be heard much better than if it was through a megaphone but thus far, they are rejecting our offer."

He said if there objective is to have their voices heard, there are many people who are willing to listen.

"Whether you support the SRO program like I do or disagree with it, it is a valid public discussion," Matlow said.

The trustee said he tried to dissuade the students from holding the protest because of safety concerns. Organizers have said it will be held on public property adjacent to Northern.

The school is located on Mt. Pleasant Avenue and public property mainly includes a small sidewalk. Matlow said he doesn't want to see the students spilling out onto the street.