'Safety coaches,' not resource officers, to roam Edmonton public school halls come fall

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Police will not return to Edmonton public schools in the fall in the form of school resource officers.

Instead, the division is looking to hire people who work with youth, have cultural sensitivity and anti-racism training, and experience in risk assessment and suicide prevention to fill a new role it is calling safety coaches.

And if candidates are missing some of those qualifications, they'll be provided with training in those areas and more before hitting the halls in September, the school division says.

"It is not a law enforcement position, let me just be clear about that," superintendent Darrel Robertson told trustees Tuesday evening. "This is another set of adult eyes watching over our kids, building relationships with them, and looking to support their success."

The non-uniformed staff member, hired by principals ideally from the school community, will not have an enforcement role nor will they be solely responsible for the safety of the entire campus, Robertson said.

School resource officers were active in Edmonton public schools from 1979 until the fall of 2020, when the program was paused for review.

In the interim, EPS officers specializing in community policing and young people were available to schools on a call basis.

Robertson said the new position was designed from feedback from principals.

"We, about a year ago, had quite an intense conversation about school resource officers in our schools and this is such a far departure from what we used to have in our schools," board chair Trisha Estabrooks told CTV News Edmonton.

PROVINCIAL ASSOCIATION TO ASK FOR K-6 DRAFT REVIEW

At the meeting, trustee Michael Janz declared plans to bring in a motion that, if passed, would see the school board ask the city to add two referendums to the upcoming municipal election ballot.

One question would be about the province's K-6 draft curriculum, which Edmonton Public Schools and some 50 other divisions do not plan on piloting.

Earlier in the week, EPSB and Evergreen Catholic Separate School Division in Spruce Grove asked the Alberta School Boards Association to lobby the province for a delay, review and rewrite of the draft.

Estabrooks called the ASBA's decision to petition for a pause and review "a step forward," but its decision to not ask for a rewrite disappointing.

She said, "At the end of the day, the membership decided through really thorough debate – important debate – that rewrite language just went too far. That it was too strong."

But, she added, it became clear from the conversation that boards across the province shared her concern.

"I'm encouraged that we have our provincial association, ASBA, advocating for a delay. So it's my hope that that message can be heard loud and clear as trustees from across the province have come together to deliver that message."

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange discussed the curriculum with ASBA on Wednesday, her press secretary, Nicole Sparrow, told CTV News Edmonton.

"We have always been clear that Alberta Education will also be engaging with Education Partners to gather their feedback on the draft curriculum," Sparrow said. "Recognizing the amount of time, and increased workload that this will create for the organizations, Alberta education will be providing up to $1 million in grants to support partner groups in conducting a consistent and coordinated engagement process with their communities so their unique perspectives can be heard and reported back to Alberta Education by January 2022.

The other topic Janz wants a referendum on is the government's new school funding model based on a weighted moving average.