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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, 


ArtStarts in Schools Society supports the petition created by concerned parents, community members, and educators calling for the Vancouver School Board (VSB), Superintendent, and trustees to address issues of anti-Black racism in Vancouver Public Schools and the role of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officers in schools through the School Liaison Officer program and other roles. 

We call on the VSB to advocate for an immediate end to School Liaison Officer programs. This issue intersects with our work in the following ways:

  1. We support artists from marginalized backgrounds to work in schools. The presence of armed police makes the school unsafe for artists from marginalized backgrounds. 
  2. As students come back to school after the Coronavirus Pandemic they will need more support for their socio-emotional learning. This is a key part of the BC Curriculum and part of the curriculum that our artists often work with. Police in schools decrease students of colour socio-emotional wellbeing and we cannot afford to further marginalize students who have already been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

ArtStarts in Schools is a registered charity in British Columbia. We work to bring artists and arts experiences into K-12 Schools throughout the province. Our work engages thousands of students, and hundreds of artists and educators each year through arts-integrated learning experiences. This takes the form of artist performances in schools, long-term artists residencies funded through our granting program, and artists and educators who participate in our professional development offerings and bring their learning back to the classroom. 

Over the past two years, ArtStarts has recentered our work to focus explicitly on how the education system creates, rather than removes, barriers to the success of marginalized artists, teachers, and students in schools. It is clear to us that advocating for art as essential to every student in BC and a key part of a comprehensive education requires an understanding of the systems that privilege some students, teachers, and artists over others. While we work internally to change our policies, systems, learning opportunities, and program offerings to be more anti-oppressive and explicitly support marginalized artists, teachers, and students in schools, it is also important to us to join the call for systemic changes in VSB schools for the 2020-21 year.This work is far from complete and we are committed to ongoing learning and change as an organization and as individual staff members. Anti-oppressive policies concern everything from going beyond the narrow euro-centric definitions of art, to adding more supports during grant application processes, to explicit priorities for artists from equity seeking groups joining our directories and programs. 

We want to know as an organization that the schools we send our artists to 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, contributes to an unnecessary climate of fear and hypervigilance that debilitates the learning process and socio-emotional outcomes for marginalized student and staff. It reinforces to young people that some identities are legitimately criminalized, that police presence is required for a functional environment, and establishes police response as a legitimate conflict resolution and emergency response when it is patently clear that none of the above are true.  

Countless studies have demonstrated the link between increased police presence in schools and higher rates of incarceration for young people, especially BIPOC youth. School Trustees in Toronto voted to remove School Resource Officers in 2018 and cited students who felt unsafe as a key reason. 

“Earlier this May, Police Chief Mark Saunders responded to concerns expressed about the program at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting by noting that a 2011 evaluation of the program showed 58 per cent of students felt safer with SROs. In response, TPS Board member Dhun Noria injected an important reminder: “You mentioned, chief, that 58 per cent of the respondents felt safe [with SROs]. This leaves 42 per cent who do not feel safe. Do we have a report about that? Why do they not feel safe and what have we done about that?”” - Article from Macleans 

And there is mounting evidence that the presence of SROs make students less safe: 

“The negative consequences of SRO programs have been widely evident in prior studies: Students at schools with SROs are five times more likely to be arrested and have increased rates of incarceration in adulthood.” - Article from Public Policy and Governance Review 

The work to make schools safer is ongoing and has been a concerted community effort for years. The work is getting increased attention and support now because of the muder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the US by a police officer and the ongoing intense work of local activists. Cities around the US and Canada are considering defunding, reforming, abolishing, and re-shaping their police forces, including the presence of police officers in schools. We call on the VSB to join the growing movement to make our communities safer by divesting from the police and investing in community care, mental health resources, social workers, nurses, and other community resources that build strong and healthy communities. 

There is further work for the VSB to do to make sure schools are safe for our most vulnerable youth. There are further demands from Black Lives Matter - Vancouver that we support. 

“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. There is more work to be done and removing police from Vancouver schools is a good place to start. 

We hope that the Superintendent and trustees read the petition created by Vancouver community members and commit to meeting the demands supported by Vancouver students, parents, community members, and educators. We hope the VSB further advocates for policies, including a stronger anti-racism policy, in collaboration with Black and Indigenous community organizers to address inequalities among youth that reverberate throughout our society. 



ArtStarts in Schools Society

Updated January 2021

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