Capitol Comments: School resource officer law must be fixed now

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

You have most likely heard the news by now about a poorly crafted new student restraint provision in the K-12 education omnibus bill that was passed at the end of last session and subsequently signed into law. The new law now prohibits Student Resource Officers (SROs) from putting any student in a face-down prone position and will make it difficult to even handcuff a student.

Peggy Bennett

Because of the unsafe environment that this new law creates for students, staff and school resource officers, this has recently resulted in many schools losing their SROs. Over 40 police departments throughout the state have already had to make the tough decision to pull their SROs from their local schools because of the ambiguity in this law, and that number is growing. This has left our schools less safe. If one cannot restrain an out-of-control student, one will have an out-of-control situation.

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This law needs to be fixed. Some schools in our area have already started the school year. Many others throughout the state were set to begin after the Labor Day holiday. This fix can’t wait six months for the regular session to ramp up. It must happen now. Gov. Walz needs to call a special session and fix this law immediately. He has been called upon to do so and very recently has now indicated he may be open to it.

There are some on the left who have irresponsibly put out on social media that “all school resource officers want to do is be able to choke children.” What a bunch of baloney! I have never heard of anything so ridiculous and offensive — not to mention that it is already illegal for law enforcement to use a chokehold or put a knee on the neck of anyone.

There are those who seem bound and determined to frame our law enforcement personnel as monsters. My goodness, what terrible accusations! These are our dads, moms, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters, and they put their lives on the line for us every day. This vilifying of our law-enforcement has got to stop!

School resource officers are well trained law enforcement officials who are there to help keep our schools safe in many ways, including dealing with out-of-control students. Because of this new law, they are severely limited in doing their jobs to keep our schools safe. Our attorney general recently put out a statement attempting to clarify this law, but it did nothing to solve the problem.

School resource officers are still being pulled from schools in droves, and our students and staff will be at risk when schools begin their school year.

In the first week for Albert Lea Schools, police records show there was a disruptive, drug-related incident with a 14-year-old student who was out of control, defiant and threatened school staff.

Because the SRO, who was asked to intervene, could not put himself in what would now be a vulnerable situation due to the recent law change, that SRO had to resort to calling two non-SRO police officers who could help take control of the situation. Thankfully no one, including the student or staff involved, were hurt due to this delay. However, a relatively common incident like this one now has the potential to become physically dangerous because of this new law.

This poorly written law was stuffed inside the majority’s huge omnibus bill full of many significant education provisions. Because of this, and because of the rushed committee work to push forward as much legislation as possible, no testimony was heard on this provision. There were too many other hugely important sections in that omnibus bill and testimony time was limited.

This provision should have also been sent for a hearing in the public safety committee but, because of the rushed environment, that was neglected as well.

This is a perfect example of how not to do legislation. It should never happen again. Provisions like this deserve a full committee airing (as a stand-alone bill) and with adequate opportunity for public testimony. That’s how legislators learn the pros and cons. It had neither, and now our schools, students and staff are paying the price.

Our schools throughout the state, including many right here in our rural communities, have students roaming the halls swearing at teachers, defying school staff and more. This is by and large caused by poor, soft-on-discipline, liberal progressive policies. We are not doing students any favors by coddling this kind of behavior and allowing chaos like this to reign in our schools. It’s not fair to the teachers and staff, and it’s not fair to the students who want to learn. It’s time for adults to take control.

Let’s start by fixing this ill-advised student restraint law. Gov. Walz, please call a special session to fix this law!

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 23A representative.