Bill to clarify school resource law passes through first committee
A bill seeking to clarify the role of school resource officers passed through its first committee hearing on Monday as the Minnesota Legislature convened for the start of a new session.
The new legislation was introduced after a law that went into effect last year created confusion among school districts and law enforcement, causing many agencies to pull their officers from school buildings at the start of the year.
The main focus for lawmakers behind the new bill is to define what a school resource officer is and to standardize training for them statewide.
The law that went into effect last August prohibited the use of certain restraints against a student by school staff and school resource officers. Some believed the wording of that law was too vague and did not adequately specify when SROs could physically intervene with an unruly student.
Lawmakers’ new proposal would remove SROs from that language and instead create a whole new policy for them. That means the Minnesota Post Board would be tasked with creating a model policy by mid-2025. By the end of next year, every law enforcement agency with an SRO program would have to adopt a similar policy.
It would also require more training that’s specific to SROs by next January.
“One of the biggest issues we had last time regarding this law is it wasn’t brought forward in a public committee hearing to get feedback from our professionals in law enforcement, our police officers, school resource officers,” said Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville. “So I’m very curious to have those very transparent committee bill hearings on this. It needs to happen fast, but we shouldn’t rush it and skip out on hearing from them.”
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association says it’s reviewing the proposed bill with attorneys and law enforcement.
The bill received its first hearing Monday in the House Education Policy Committee. Legislators heard testimony from a number of people, starting with Education Commissioner Willie Jett and Public Safety Commissioner Bob Jacobson.
“We all recognize that SROs in schools can be a complicated conversation that requires honest and careful conversation, and it’s essential that we provide clarity with this bill for the health and safety of our school communities,” Jett said.
Jacobson highlighted the bill’s emphasis on creating training standards for SROs.
“If a community decides to have an SRO, this bill will help ensure a higher standard and specialized training,” he said.
“It addresses the issue that 2023 language raised and allows school districts to work with their local law enforcement agencies on whether to employ school resource officers in their schools,” a Minnesota Association of School Administrators representative said.
Some school officials said the changes could be a good thing.
“We think that’s going to make it safer and that’s why school principals think this is a good idea,” said a Minnesota elementary school principals’ associations representative.
Some community members said SROs should not have physical contact with kids at all because people of color and disabled children will be affected disproportionately.
“I’m here to speak on behalf of the many Black children, especially Black boys who will fall prey to nonexclusionary disciplinary policies, practices and actions,” a National Parents Union representative, who spoke at the hearing, said. “The legislation passed last session was a no-brainer and now we are playing politics with the lives of children.”
Ultimately, the committee approved the bill by a 7-5 vote, with one abstention. Its next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday evening before the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.