Minnesota Republicans call for special session to repeal change in school resource officer law
As more and more law enforcement agencies end their school resource officer (SRO) programs over concerns stemming from a law change, Minnesota Republicans are now calling for a special session in order to propose a solution.
Minnesota House and Senate Republican lawmakers were joined by local police and school leaders Wednesday morning to discuss the impact of the law change and what a fix could look like.
The Republicans’ proposal, authored by Sen. Zach Duckworth (R- Lakeville), is simply a repeal of the law passed this spring, which they say would revert back to the original language in the statute. Duckworth says he did reach out to DFL lawmakers and got support from Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin).
“This is about allowing our school resource officers to use the de-escalation tools that they’re trained in because we know that we all in Minnesota want schools that are safe and successful for all of our students,” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth said.
It comes less than a week before school starts for most Minnesota districts, although the new year is already underway for some.
Shortly before the news conference started, the state’s Republican leaders in the House and Senate called for a special session in order to address the issue. House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday requesting the session. The full letter can be found at the bottom of this article.
While the law was updated this spring to prohibit school resources officers from “using prone restraint and comprehensive restraint on the head, neck and across most of the torso,” the whole issue first arose earlier this month when the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and some local law enforcement started expressing concerns about the law.
Some law enforcement officials have said the law change created confusion and prevents techniques that can improve safety, but Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says the law still allows SROs to use “reasonable force” to prevent injuries or death.
Despite his legal opinion, several agencies have decided to end their SRO programs until the law is changed. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office joined that list on Tuesday, with Sheriff Dawanna Witt saying, “It should be written in a way that everybody understands it the same way so that we do not have any incidents in the future that are going to have backlash.”
“I’m not gonna tell a teacher how to teach algebra; I’m gonna count on them to have their skillsets and tools and to teach algebra,” Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany said Wednesday. “Our SROs have to be counted on for their skillsets and tools as well, particularly in times of crisis. This legislation has in essence had a reverse effect.”
“We all agree that nobody wants to put hands on students,” Podany added. “This isn’t about neck restraints — those are already illegal by statute for cops barring a deadly force situation — we don’t advocate for or teach that. However, there are many situations that occur every day in our schools requiring intervention by staff or by law enforcement.”
While Podany didn’t have the specific wording that concerns law enforcement, he said some of the physical restrictions put SROs in a tough position.
As examples, he cited an expelled student or other students who are trespassing or being drunk and disorderly at a football game, something he called a common occurrence. He also noted it would be difficult for SROs in a scenario where kids start verbally fighting, threatening to fight, and other students start gathering and urging a fight.
“At what point are we saying in that confrontation we now have a threat?” Podany asked. “Is it when they’re standing there talking? Is it when they start to argue? Is it when people are standing, chanting, “Fight, fight?” Or is it when they actually start pushing and throwing punches? You somehow have to make that delineation, you don’t wanna go too early.”
Before the law was updated, the police chief said staff members or SROs would interject themselves into the situation, push through the crowd and break up a fight by taking things to the office.
“You can’t physically intervene now until it’s potentially too late and if you don’t intervene soon enough as a police officer, you could be liable, but if you intervene too soon, you could be liable under this statute. It creates a no-win situation in law enforcement,” Podany said.
He added that Blaine is having city council discussions to try to find a non-contractual workaround for safety services at schools until the law is updated.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have now called for executive action to update the law, although Gov. Walz has remained noncommittal when asked about a special session or executive order, citing Ellison’s already released opinion. However, he’s also continued to say state attorneys are looking at the law and will consider taking action if it’s needed.
When asked for a response to Republicans’ press conference Wednesday, the governor sent the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:
“Our students need to be safe in school – that’s why this year we passed gun safety legislation, funded teacher training, and advanced the largest education budget in state history. As a former 20-year teacher, I know that School Resource Officers play an important role in keeping our kids safe. Our administration will continue working with school districts and law enforcement agencies to ensure they have the guidance and resources they need to do their jobs effectively.”
Meanwhile, the DFL chairs of the Minnesota House and Senate education committee — Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-New Brighton), Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie), Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins) and Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka) — released the following statement:
“The DFL-led Legislature and Governor Walz made historic investments in education this year, including free school meals for all children and more staff to help our kids navigate mental health challenges. We are united in our commitment to ensuring a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment for students and everyone who works in our Minnesota schools. We value the role that School Resource Officers play in keeping schools safe, and Governor Walz’s administration is working diligently to ensure that districts and law enforcement have the guidance they need to do their jobs effectively.”
DFL Senator Erin Maye Quade came out in support of the bill as it’s written, explaining her view on social media site TikTok.
“The law isn’t vague. It’s very, very clear,” she said.
“Every student has a constitutional right to make sure that it is a safe learning environment, and not just safe, but that they know that they’re going to be safe there. And that if things are happening, if there’s force being used against them, it is an extremely rare circumstance for really, really specific reasons.”