MINNESOTA – Two police organizations representing officers across the state remain concerned about changes to Minnesota’s school discipline laws, which they say will limit the ability of school resource officers (SRO) to keep students and teachers safe.
This is despite a legal opinion issued this week by Attorney General Keith Ellison, who clarified that the changes to the law “do not limit the types of force that may be used by school employees and agents to prevent bodily harm or death, but retain the instruction that force must be ‘reasonable’ in those situations.”
The law prohibits school employees and agents of a school from using “prone restraints” and other types of physical holds on pupils. These changes were inserted this spring as a provision to an omnibus education finance and policy bill that Gov. Tim Walz signed in May. The changes took effect Aug. 1.
The law is ambiguous in cases where there is illegal activity but no threat of bodily harm or death, according to the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA).
“In some situations, an SRO responds to a student acting unruly and committing crimes such as damage to property, trespassing, or disorderly conduct. If an SRO is involved in these situations, what authority does an SRO have to intervene and stop the criminal behavior? The Attorney General indicated these are important questions but directed us to the legislature,” the MCPA said in a press release.
Both groups continued to express frustration about being excluded from the legislative process on this topic.
“The new law is ambiguous and unclear. We know the vagueness and uncertainty of the law is a result of having no law enforcement stakeholders providing input into this important legislation,” the MPPOA said in a letter to its members.
The MPPOA interprets the law to mean that SROs cannot “physically engage a student unless there is a threat of bodily harm or death.”
“This potentially creates difficult situations for officers in these positions because they would have limited ability to properly intercede in the event a student is physically damaging school property, fleeing from an illegal situation, engaging in disorderly conduct, etc., which goes against their training,” the group added.
Both groups hinted that the changes could result in police departments declining to send SROs back to school ahead of the new school year. In fact, the Moorhead Police Department became the first agency to do just that on Thursday.
“Until a solution is identified — and the more than 30-year-old collaboration with Moorhead Area Public Schools can be resumed — the City of Moorhead Police Department has reassigned its School Resource Officers back to patrol duty,” the city said in a press release.
NEW: The City of Moorhead has suspended its school resource officer program in response to a new law that limits the ability of officers to physically intervene in cases where there is no threat of bodily harm or death. pic.twitter.com/4xp8ceOtCP
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) August 24, 2023
The MPPOA urged its members to “proceed with caution as a school resource officer or contracted officer with a school district.”
“One option could be to forgo formal SRO contracts and simply allow law enforcement access to schools, so the new SRO requirements would not apply,” the letter concluded. “Members may also consider requiring the school district to agree in a contract that it would defend and indemnify your agency and officers in the event of a civil suit for the use of a prone or passive restraint or taking someone to the ground.”
This article originally appeared at Alpha News and was reprinted with permission.