Support for teachers talking about the VESTA VPD motion

What is the problem? Why take this position now?

Teachers have been discussing anti-racism in response to the local and global movements raising awareness of the profound and systemic racism faced by Black, Indigenous People and People of Colour. As teachers, we have a role to play in our schools and our lives unlearning racism and developing anti-racist practice, but individual efforts are not enough.

Our Association acknowledges that this racism isn’t new, but recent events have highlighted the inequity faced by Black, Indigenous people and people of colour and the need for local and global solidarity with those impacted most by inequities in the policing, education, judicial and medical system. This has prompted recent discussions about our own structures as a union working with BIPOC members and students.

But we know that the incarceration rates and the experiences of police violence, racial profiling and criminalization impacts Black, Indigenous and People of Colour disproportionately.  Regardless of the actions of individual members of the VPD or the RCMP, the institutions themselves have an impact on our members, our students and our students’ families.

Teachers, members of the public and student families have been asking for teachers support in reducing police presence in schools.  The motion passed by the VESTA Staff Rep Assembly asks for a suspension of police presence in schools until some work has been done by the VPD and the RCMP to look into their practices and undertake anti-racist work in their organizations and in their communities.

This motion was brought by Vancouver teachers to the VESTA Executive, because of concerns that were raised by their students, families and school communities.  They felt that the presence of VPD in schools challenged their ability to provide a safe and equitable learning environment for all students.

School Liaison Officers have a good relationship with my students.  Why do we need to take this action?

The issues raised by the VESTA motion name problems that are above and beyond the actions of individuals.  Much in the same way that it’s important to do the work of addressing our own racism, that is not enough.  WE need to also look at our structures and institutions and challenge the aspects that promote, reinforce or use racism.  The education system also needs our scrutiny.

Black, Indigenous and People of Colour are asking for our support in reviewing and reconsidering the role of police officers in schools.  The role of School Liaison Officers has changed significantly over the years, and the presence of armed, fully uniformed police in schools has an uneven impact on our students and families.

If we are working towards schools that are inclusive and safe for all of our students and families, then it’s important we take a position to acknowledge that despite the actions an behaviour of individual police, there are issues with the current state of policing, and where that intersects with schools.

There are many roles that the VPD take on in Vancouver, and with this motion, we might have to consider things being done a bit differently.  Matters like training crossing guard student volunteers, hallowe’en safety lessons or some of the more traditional workshops provided by VPD SLO may have to be suspended while the review takes place.

Police presence in schools is not neutral.  Regardless of the choices or actions of individual officers, or the identification of the need for this review by each community in Vancouver, when members of our society are speaking out about this issue, as educators, we have a responsibility to hear that call.

What is the change we are hoping to see?

The primary aspect of this motion is a request for the VPD and the RCMP to consider the impact of their current practices on Indigenous people, Black people and People of Colour.

We know that the impact of policing and disproportionate incarceration rates for members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) communities has an impact on the ability of our students to attend schools and feel safe.  Both the federal and provincial governments have called for the VPD and RCMP to review and evaluate their practices.

Some of the media headlines have conflated these important and nuanced issues. Teachers do not have the authority to preclude anyone from attending a school site.

The motion asks for teachers to discuss the issue at school sites and make a recommendation to the school principal about holding school events without the participation of the SLO until such a time that concerns about systemic racism in law enforcement had been more fully discussed and addressed.

Part of our ability to effect change as teachers is to advocate for our positions to the Vancouver School Board, which we have also done.  The VSB debated a motion on Monday, June 22, to review the role of SLO in schools and consult with stakeholder and BIPOC community groups.

Letter from the teaching staff at ?uuquinak’uuh/Grandview Elementary School

The teachers at ?uuquinak’uuh/Grandview Elementary would like to extend our support to the recent VESTA motion to not include police and RCMP at school events. We believe it is a small and necessary step that we can take towards decolonizing the education system. We made the shift to not having police at events at our school a few years ago. It is important to note that this change would likely not have been made then without the immeasurable input and labour from our Indigenous community.

Like many schools, we used to have an annual community event that was attended by uniformed police officers. Parents asked for them not to be invited because their presence was triggering trauma for some children and families. There is a very real history and present threat of violence towards Indigenous people by police and RCMP. The parents gave examples of how they and their children experience this trauma, including: being victims of police brutality or having loved ones who have been murdered by police; their children – our students – have witnessed police violence towards their parents in the community; and police have been involved when children were taken from their families. In light of these accounts, it was clear that we had a responsibility to honour the trauma that was being shared with us. In order to make our students and families feel safe at school, we needed to not have a police presence at our events.

As we reflected on these events, we realized that Indigenous parents had the power to speak out because they are in the majority group at our school. And, still, it took several years and much emotional labour for changes to occur. Parents should not be put in the position of explaining their trauma to educators, and parents across the district should not have to be asking for these same changes at the individual school level. If we are serious about reconciliation, we, as a district, should learn from the brave parents who were able to speak out at our school.

We are concerned that police presence can be traumatizing for many Black and Indigenous people. At schools where they are the minority they may not feel safe to share their experiences. We believe this is an issue for all schools, not just those with high populations of Black or Indigenous students.

Finally, we understand that police offer a sense of protection and security for many – especially for those of us who hold privilege. But we need to listen with an open mind to other voices, especially if we are truly committed to the work of anti-racism and reconciliation in our schools.

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