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June 22, 2020

ArtStarts supports Police-Free Schools - VSB Anti-Racism Policy

June 22, 2020

Vancouver School Board 

School District #39

1580 West Broadway 

Vancouver, BC V6J 5K8


Dear Superintendent Hoffman and Vancouver Board of Education Trustees, 

We at the ArtStarts in Schools Society are writing to support the petition calling for the Vancouver School Board (VSB), superintendent, and trustees to address issues of anti-Black racism in Vancouver public schools, and to eliminate the role of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officers in schools through the School Liaison Officer and similar programs by voting accordingly on Motion 9.5 and related items on tonight's agenda. 

ArtStarts in Schools is a registered charity in British Columbia. Each year we work to bring meaningful arts experiences to K-12 students throughout the province. Our work engages thousands of students, and hundreds of artists and educators each year through arts-integrated performances, free hands-on programs, funded residencies, and professional development experiences.

Over the past two years, ArtStarts has re-centred our work to focus on how systemic barriers cause inequitable access to the arts in education for teachers, students, families, and artists across BC. We cannot advocate for art as an essential component of education in BC without understanding how systems privilege some students, teachers, and artists over others. As we work internally to evolve our programs to be more equitable and support marginalized artists, teachers, and students in schools, it is important to us to join this external call for systemic changes in VSB schools for the 2020-21 year.

It is crucial that the schools we work with are as safe as possible for the artists, teachers, and students engaging in our programs. The presence of VPD officers, or RCMP officers in other school districts, detracts from this safety. Rather: 

  1. It contributes to an unnecessary climate of fear and hypervigilance that debilitates the learning process and socio-emotional growth of marginalized students and staff. We believe that in addition to comprehensive, arts-integrated education, police-free schools are a key component of young peoples’ cognitive development and socio-emotional learning.
  2. A police presence in schools exposes marginalized artists on our touring and classroom rosters to violence in school performance environments, which are their workplaces. This is, of course, in addition to the additional scrutiny faced by marginalized educators who must cope with the presence of police in their everyday environments. 
  3. SLOs reinforce to young learners, families, and the educators who serve them that the criminalization of marginalized identities is legitimate; that a police presence is required for a functional environment; and establishes a police response as an appropriate form of conflict resolution and emergency response when it is patently clear that none of the above are true. 

As we approach what is sure to be a challenging school year, it is a particularly critical time to remove police officers from VSB schools and learning environments in other districts. When students return to drastically altered in-person classrooms, the presence of police officers will only continue to escalate a climate of hypervigilance and fear created by the twin public health crises of police brutality and COVID-19. The resources devoted to police roles in schools could be powerfully re-allocated to support educators, parents, and young people as they cope with the impacts of both the pandemic and systemic racism. 

The work to make communities safer without police is ongoing and has been a dedicated community effort by organizations in our neighbourhood, including the Carnegie Action Project and the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre, for years. There is more work to be done; in addition to removing police officers from district schools, ArtStarts calls on the VSB to join this longstanding and growing movement to make our schools safer by divesting from the police, and investing in strong and healthy communities from an anti-oppressive framework. Thus, it is imperative that the removal of SLOs in schools occurs in concert with demonstrated support for Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s demands, including the following: 

“The Vancouver School Board must acknowledge its dismissal of several incidents of blatant anti-Black racism including hate speech and systemic practices, and commit to an anti-racism policy in collaboration with Black and Indigenous community organizations.”  - Black Lives Matter - Vancouver 

We are encouraged by the recent motion from the Vancouver Elementary Teachers’ Association (VESTA) which recommends that Vancouver police and RCMP officers no longer attend school events. We encourage VSB to continue this work and stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and VESTA to make schools safer for students. 

We hope that the Superintendent and trustees thoroughly read the petition created by Vancouver community members and commit to meeting the demands of Vancouver students, parents, community members, and educators. We encourage the VSB to vote accordingly on the other motions in this meeting related to Anti-Racism in Vancouver Public Schools. We ask the VSB to further advocate for systemic change in collaboration with Black and Indigenous community organizers, taking steps to address inequalities among youth that are reinforced by our education system and reverberate throughout our society. 



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