School districts across
… can share the concern of Rep. Jeff Dotseth that, “Changes the governor and
legislators made earlier this year could compromise our ability to uphold safety and maintain order in our schools.”
As the Republican from Silver Township, near Moose Lake, also said in a statement this week, “Our students, teachers and staff deserve to have a safe environment in which to learn and perform their jobs.”
(Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, wrote this week he wants to send “a message to Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leadership that yet another one of their major policy “wins” from last year is jeopardizing the safety of students, teachers, and staff in our schools. The policy change is causing many school districts around Minnesota to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from their middle and high schools.”
They certainly do. However, a small change in state law this past session is now creating a huge kerfuffle over the lengths school resource officers, or SROs, can go when dealing with unruly students. The law previously said SROs could use a level of reasonable force to “restrain a student or to prevent bodily harm or death.” The new wording drops the “or.”
So, does that mean any and all physical contact from an SRO is now a no-no, “even holding (a student’s) arm,” as Moorhead, Minnesota, Police Capt. Deric Swenson questioned in a Fargo Forum newspaper story this week? Attorneys, including Moorhead’s city attorney, are interpreting the new wording exactly that way.
Concerned that SROs could then face civil or criminal penalties for violating the new law, the Moorhead and Anoka, Minnesota, police departments last week removed school resource officers from the public schools in their communities, leaving those schools less safe and less secure.
Before other districts follow suit — and why wouldn’t others? — state officials need to take action and are being urged to do so by lawmakers like Dotseth, the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and others.
Whether it comes from lawmakers, the governor, the Minnesota Department of Education, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the office of Attorney General Keith Ellison, or somewhere else, clarification and clarity are needed.
And now — public schools in Minnesota, including in Duluth, are back in session on Tuesday. Having resource officers in schools when students return will help ensure safety and a successful new school year.
But officers need to know they can step in without fear of legal repercussions to stop a student damaging school property, for example, even if the damage being done isn’t threatening bodily harm or death.
And provisions in the state law need to remain in place to continue protecting students from excessive force. For instance, resource officers cannot use a prone, or face-down, restraint except in situations where bodily harm or death is a concern. School resource officers also cannot “inflict any form of physical holding that restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to breathe; restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to communicate distress; places pressure or weight on a pupil’s head, throat, neck, chest, lungs, sternum, diaphragm, back, or abdomen; or results in straddling a pupil’s torso,” as the law states.
“The current situation basically takes away all powers or options as a police officer,” Capt. Swenson said in the Forum story. That’s unacceptable.
As the Northland’s Rep. Dotseth stated, “It would be an injustice for shortsighted decisions made in St. Paul to put students and staff at risk, depriving them of the safe learning environment we can all agree is crucial to a good education. … We need to fix state law to resolve this problem as soon as possible and ensure our schools are safe and welcoming places to learn.”
School districts across Minnesota, including Duluth’s, can insist on nothing less.