As students return to school, discussions about school resource officer law continue

As students return to school, discussions about school resource officer law continue

As students return to school, discussions about school resource officer law continue

Most Minnesota teachers and students returned to the classroom Tuesday for the start of a new school year, but much of the focus remained on who didn’t return to some schools.

The debate over the new school resource officer (SRO) law continues, with many districts having canceled their SRO programs in recent weeks.

While visiting schools Tuesday morning, Gov. Tim Walz said that conversations with stakeholders are still happening. While he expressed that he’s “open to any solution,” the governor didn’t yet seem ready to call for a special session, unlike many Republicans and some in his own party.

RELATED: Minnesota Republicans call for special session to repeal change in school resource officer law

“I think we all want a solution,” Walz said outside Oak Grove Elementary School in Bloomington.

The school, which kicked off the new learning year last week, is one of the districts that still has an SRO program this year. Walz indicated that’s part of the reason he believes the SRO issues can be solved without legislative action.

“Some districts have worked it out and they believe the language is clarified, others are not. I think what we’re trying to figure out is there a solution that works best to make sure that we have those trusted adults in the buildings where adults want them to be and it satisfies everyone’s need,” Walz said.

Minnesota Republicans believe Walz shouldn’t be waiting to call a special session, having first urged the governor to take action last week.

Republicans have also drafted a bill to repeal the update to the SRO law that was approved this past spring. That update bans the use of “prone restraint and comprehensive restraint on the head, neck and across most of the torso,” but Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has said the law still provides exceptions for SROs to use “reasonable force” to prevent any bodily harm or death.

RELATED: More police departments withdraw SROs over changes to state law

However, law enforcement officials in many of the districts that have canceled their programs have said the law still leaves SROs in a “no-win” position that leaves them liable if they act too soon or too late.

“The spirit of this thing is all of us want our buildings safe and all of us want to make sure that excessive force isn’t used on our students and I think finding that middle ground shouldn’t be all that difficult,” Walz said.

Yet, as a new school year starts, that hasn’t proven to be the case everywhere. While the governor hasn’t ruled out a special session, he reiterated that his goal is to continue to have conversations with leaders in districts that have canceled their SRO programs to provide clarity and see if a solution can be reached.

The leaders of the DFL-controlled Minnesota House and Senate also issued statements Monday night.

“Our top priority is for our students to successfully learn and that requires a safe and healthy environment for students and staff in the schools,” Sen. Kari Dziedzic said. “We are continuing to have discussions with our members, stakeholders, and the Governor’s office about the specific 2023 policy changes around use of force in our schools and school safety generally.”

“We all want a safe and healthy learning environment for Minnesota students and school staff,” Rep. Melissa Hortman added. “This is an important policy discussion about safety and the appropriate use of force in our schools. House and Senate leaders are continuing to have conversations with members, stakeholders, and the Governor about this issue and how to best address it.”