Minnesota House advances change to school resource officer law

Published 9:07 pm Monday, March 4, 2024

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By Dana Ferguson, Minnesota Public Radio News

The Minnesota House voted Monday to exempt school resource officers from a law prohibiting school workers from using prone holds on students.

The 124-8 vote shifts the focus to the Senate, where the bill hasn’t moved as quickly.

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Law enforcement groups said the change could allow local police departments to return officers to school settings. Several police agencies pulled school resource officers last fall over concerns about liability under a new law that took effect in 2023.

While the attorney general issued guidance outlining when officers could intervene and use the holds, the bill’s supporters said clearer guidelines need to be spelled out in law.

“We do this for our kids. We do this for our young people. We do this to make sure that the only thing they have to worry about when they get off that bus. Where they walked through that door, at the end of the day, let’s worry about the education that they’re gonna get that day,” said the bill’s author Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope.

“None of these adults need to be coddled. We don’t need to be told how great we are, we just need to focus on our kids, and worry about making sure they are okay,” he continued. “That is what this bill is about. It creates a framework for the entire state now, there’ll be transparency, there’ll be accountability, if necessary.”

The bill moves next to the Senate where it is expected to take place within a matter of days. DFL leaders have said they support the proposal, and Gov. Tim Walz has said he will sign it into law if it reaches his desk.

Community groups that helped push the law limiting prone restraints last year continue to oppose the change and said the holds shouldn’t be allowed in any situation.

The proposal would exempt school resource officers from current law that bars school employees from using holds on students that impede their ability to breathe or to call out for help.

Under their police training, the officers would still be prohibited from using prone holds unless a student posed a serious risk to themselves or to others. School resource officers would have to undergo additional training to work in a school setting and meet contractual requirements developed between a school district and a policy department. And the officers would not be allowed to deliver discipline for violations of school policies.

The bill also requires the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training — known as the POST Board — to write a model policy for school resource officers with input from law enforcement, school leaders, disability advocates and other community groups.

Republicans in the chamber said they were glad to see the bill move forward, though they wished the change could’ve come sooner. GOP lawmakers and law enforcement group called for a special session to rewrite the law last fall.

Rep. Jeff Witte, R-Lakeville, worked to amend the bill in committee to include more input from law enforcement groups in the model policy writing process. The former school resource officer said he was happy with the proposal and thought it would encourage police departments to enter back into contracts with schools.

“I’m hoping that we can get them all back into school with this fix today,” Witte said. “And I think this will obviously keep our schools, our students and our teachers safe, but will also give our parents some peace of mind.”