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Parents divided on police in schools

Elementary PAC wants to canvass opinions before summer holidays It looked like it was going to be an orderly and somewhat uneventful annual general meeting of the Whistler secondary Parent Advisory Council, until the topic of police in schools was in

Elementary PAC wants to canvass opinions before summer holidays

It looked like it was going to be an orderly and somewhat uneventful annual general meeting of the Whistler secondary Parent Advisory Council, until the topic of police in schools was introduced.

The chair of the Myrtle Philip PAC, Don Brett, came to the meeting seeking high school co-operation for a survey to gauge the level of parental support for a full-time police officer in Whistler’s schools. It was clear from the response that there are strong feelings on all sides of the debate.

The elementary school PAC had decided at their last meeting to survey parents of Myrtle Philip students before the end of the school year next month. It was also decided that the elementary school should try and do the survey in collaboration with the high school.

Brett came to the WSS meeting armed with a draft survey. His hope was to hammer out the finer details with the WSS PAC executive at a later date. This would include determining how the questions should be worded and what percentage of positive response should be accepted as a mandate for the PACs to lobby the municipality for funding for a school liaison officer.

The goal is to have the survey designed within a week with input from the PACs, school staff and the municipality to ensure the results will be meaningful.

Some parents, however, had other ideas. They felt the process was being rushed. They wanted to know whose tune they were supposed to be dancing to and why.

Parent and PAC director, Alex Kleinman was not prepared to give the WSS PAC executive a mandate to design a survey without coming back to the PAC for a vote of approval. "I ask that the survey not be sent out until you have full PAC approval."

Brett said there was not enough time to do this before the end of the school year. He noted Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Hilton Haider made his presentation to the schools more than six weeks ago and it was only courteous to give the man a response.

"Staff Sgt. Haider wants some kind of response before the end of the year," said Brett.

School trustee Andrée Janyk suggested the PAC form a committee to look into the issue. She said parents are being faced with a major decision. "I’m feeling a sense that we are trying to rush this before the end of the school year," she said. "And that is when you make mistakes."

There was also a concern that not enough weight was being given to school staff opinion and there was debate as to whether student input should be sought.

School principal Rick Smith said Haider had not made a presentation to his staff.

It was noted that this was Haider's initiative and perhaps Haider should be making more presentations to support his cause. It was also noted by one parent that there is still confusion over what role a police officer would play in the high school. She said a survey now would be premature. "It’s not going to get the right kind of answers."

The idea was originally sounded off the school board by Squamish RCMP last fall. The board supported the concept for Squamish and said it supports the idea for the northern part of the district as well, if it is the wish of those communities.

The school board will not fund the concept, however.

Haider has pitched his proposal to Whistler councillors and the two PACs. He has been promised partial funding from the RMOW if he can show parents really want a full-time cop in the schools.

The next step would be a letter from Whistler’s mayor to Canada’s Attorney General to say Whistler needs another policeman, one dedicated to the schools.

But, according to Haider that won’t happen unless there is a groundswell of grassroots support for the concept. The request for a policeman in local schools has to come from the community.

The staff sergeant also believes the balance of the $72,000 in funding required for the position can be made available to the Whistler RCMP if parents make a strong case for it.

But irrespective of whether parents want a cop in schools or not, seeking funding for one is one of the police goals set out in the municipality’s five-year financial plan for the year 2001.

One of the plan’s policing service highlights for this year is to form a partnership with the school board and the municipality for joint funding for a full-time school liaison officer.

"Haider has made at least four presentations in this community and the (school) board has said they are in favour," said Brett. He noted staff at Myrtle Philip have been informed via their principal, Bob Daly. He said an outline of what a police officer would do in the schools will be sent out to parents with the survey.

Brett said the Myrtle Philip PAC was not endorsing the proposal but merely seeking feedback from parents on the idea. "I think it is courteous to move along at a reasonable speed," he said.

"At the moment it is very rushed," said Kleinman." I think there is a lot more work to be done in getting information out to everyone." He also said it was his understanding that the high school PAC was going to wait for feedback from a Healthy Communities review of the proposal.

The WSS PAC decided to form a committee comprised of a high school staff representative, Kleinman, parent Jane Seymour and Brett to look into designing a survey.

Brett said for the survey to be meaningful the high school must be involved, otherwise there is not much point in pursuing the issue.