Politics and Government

DFL fastracks fix on school resource officers using prone restraints

Tree branches above a large government building
The Minnesota State Capitol is pictured on the first day of the new session on Monday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated 9:42 a.m.

House DFLers are moving forward with a bill that would let school resource officers use prone restraints on students but would require them to be trained before starting work in a school. 

DFLers have framed the bill as a fix to a law passed last year that prompted some Minnesota police departments to pull their officers from schools amid concerns they could be held liable for subduing students using a prone restraint.

On Monday, lawmakers on the House Education Policy Committee OK’d the bill on a partisan vote. A hearing is set for Tuesday in the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. 

Earlier Monday, House Republicans tried unsuccessfully to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, saying it was urgent and needed to be taken up immediately. DFL leaders said the proposal would come up for a floor vote next week after stakeholders had a chance to offer feedback in a handful of committees in coming days.

“House Republicans are looking for an actual fix that would fix the issue, allow school resource officers to get back into the schools that choose to have them and promote public safety within the buildings for staff and students,” said House Republican Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring.

The DFL controls the state House, Senate and governor’s office, so the language change is likely to become law. Students value school resource officers and the bill “ensures all SROs have training,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Willie Jett told lawmakers.

‘Our right to be safe in school’

Anger over the use of prone restraints surfaced following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Bystander video showed Floyd handcuffed, face down on the pavement and pleading with then-officer Derek Chauvin that he could not breathe.

Much of the Monday afternoon hearing focused on the concerns of those who believe school resource officers should be banned from using restraints or holds that restrict students’ ability to breathe or communicate distress.

“Countless of my peers, many of whom are Black, brown and Indigenous or disabled have lasting trauma from being held face down by an adult using prone restraint in an already stressful situation,” Mira Berndt, a student in the St. Paul public schools, told lawmakers. 

“Even more frightening is that the adults entrusted with the responsibility of our education will be willing to accommodate the wants of officers over the needs of students,” said Berndt, who’s also a fellow with the nonprofit Legal Rights Center. “It is our right to be safe in school and the implementation of this bill would quite literally block that right.”

Republicans and some school administrator groups expressed concern Monday that the bill didn’t go far enough in allowing officers to protect school property and that requiring a model policy for SRO responsibilities was “unnecessary” and would “simply be another restriction on law enforcement to enter into agreements with schools to help with the safety and security.”

“Just to be very frank, there’s significant concern around the model policy that once that process is done, we’ll be back in this same exact situation after December of ‘25,” said Rep. Ben Bakeburg, R-Jordan. “That … kicks the can down the road long enough to get us past the election. It seems very convenient.”

Bakeburg, a teacher, said he worried about a “blanket” statewide policy decision and called some of the rhetoric around the issue "very damaging to educators, very harmful and very hurtful … Those of us that serve kids don’t do it to hurt kids. We do it because we want to love and serve the community that we’re in, so some of the language, some of the rhetoric in my opinion is offensive."

Bill sponsor Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, said he spent a lot of time over the past several months talking to stakeholders to put together the language fix. He said his bill includes requirements that school resource officers not be used to resolve student discipline issues.

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