Politics and Government

Bloc of DFL lawmakers opposes special session to repeal prone restraint law

A person speaks at a microphone
Jose Perez, a youth advocate at Bridgemakers, encourages lawmakers not to repeal a law banning school workers and officers from restraining students in a way that limits their breathing during a Capitol news conference on Thursday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

A large number of Minnesota Democratic legislators oppose a special session to repeal a new law setting limits on physical holds by school staff. They issued a statement Thursday calling the use of prone restraints “extreme punishments” that don’t belong in a learning environment.

The bloc of House and Senate members who signed a lengthy statement — 42 percent of the seats the party holds in the Legislature — represents the first coordinated resistance to a proposed rollback of the new law. The law approved this year prohibits school personnel, including law enforcement assigned to schools, from using holds that restrict breathing or would make it hard to communicate distress.

There are exceptions for situations where a hold is used to prevent bodily harm or death to others.

Republicans and several law enforcement leaders have called for it to be repealed entirely after several police departments announced that they would pull school resource officers because of the law.

The new statement could complicate attempts to bring the Legislature into a special session, a prospect that DFL legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz haven’t ruled out. Thirty-four House members and 10 senators signed the statement; most but not all are from safely held Democratic districts.

The lawmakers who signed onto the statement say a repeal would deprive students of safety measures that are in place in other settings.

“Anyone advocating for the repeal of this law is working to take us backwards. We do not support a special session to repeal this law,” the group wrote. “Repealing this law would make our schools less safe and remove critical measures that are necessary to protect students in their learning environment.”

But the issue remains a source of conflict because several police agencies have withdrawn officers from schools all together over concerns about potential liability.

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said the DFL response was disappointing and urged Walz to work with Republicans.

"If the governor is truly serious about solving this problem and making sure our schools are safe, it’s time to bring Republicans to the table," Demuth said in a statement. "A bipartisan fix is the only way forward, and House Republicans are ready and waiting to get this fixed and make sure SROs can return to their posts as soon as possible.”

Only Walz has the power to call a special session.

Also on Thursday, a coalition of parents, teachers, leaders of groups that oppose police violence and others made their case to lawmakers that the law should stand.

During a news conference at the Capitol, they said that the law mirrors one adopted in 2015 that prevents prone holds of students with disabilities. And more than three years after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officers, they said Minnesota students shouldn’t be subjected to the holds at school.

“This is the state where an officer sworn to protect and serve murdered George Floyd with a knee to the neck,” said Jose Perez, a leader of the youth program Good Trouble. “We should not be having special sessions about SROs, we should be having special sessions about the teacher shortage that we’re having, the desperate lack of purpose and mentorship for our young people.”

The group said they would press DFL leaders not to call a special session and to keep the law in place as is.

“The time is now to say, ‘The law is the law.’ And we are here to reinforce it and we will continue to show up. No special session,” Twin Cities Innovation Alliance Co-Founder Marika Pfefferkorn, said. “One Minnesota does not mean chokeholds for anybody but especially our children.”

In a report presented to the Legislature late last year, the Minnesota Department of Education said it tracked more than 10,000 physical holds of students during the 2021-2022 school year. That is the most recent data available. The report did not elaborate on how many of those were prone holds or holds that impacted student breathing. 

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