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Minnesota House approves bill clarifying use of force rules for school resource officers following controversy

Minnesota House passes fix to controversial SRO law
Minnesota House passes fix to controversial SRO law 02:21

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota House with broad bipartisan support on Monday approved a bill clarifying use-of-force standards for school resource officers, a remedy to a change made last year that prompted many police departments to pull their officers from districts.

At issue was a small section of a sweeping education policy bill last year that prohibited school staff and school resource officers from using certain types of restraints and physical holds on students. 

Law enforcement worried the language was ambiguous and raised concerns about the impact, so dozens of departments chose to pause their school resource officer programs awaiting further action from the legislature. 

Under this plan approved by the House on Monday, school resource officers are exempt from those recent regulations on holds and restraints of students, though they still have to follow other laws governing police conduct, including a ban on chokeholds except in narrow circumstances. 

Drea Leal, School Resource Officer, Roosevelt High School, Minneapolis, MN, January 2019, by David Joles, Star Tribune
Minneapolis Police officer and school resource officer Drea Leal does her rounds in the hallways Friday, January 18, 2019 at Minneapolis Roosevelt High School, in Minneapolis, MN. Police officers in schools. David Joles/Star Tribune via Getty Images

"We just need to focus on our kids and worry about making sure they're ok. That's what this bill is about," said Rep. Cedric Frazier, DFL-New Hope, the bill's author. "It creates a framework for the entire state now.  There will be transparency; there will be accountability if necessary. Those are the important things and messages I heard when working to put the bill in the shape that it's in now to get to this point."

The proposal requires SRO training on topics like de-escalation and responding to mental health crises. 

It also instructs the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop a model policy with stakeholders, like groups representing school boards and law enforcement. Frazier called these provisions the "centerpiece" of the legislation. 

School resource officers also cannot be used to discipline students for violating school policy.  The vote was nearly unanimous with all but eight DFL lawmakers supporting the measure. 

Republicans, who for months called for a special session to clarify the law, celebrated its passage—though they wished the bill had moved more quickly.

"This easily could have been done through a special session if called by the governor," said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, during a news conference on Monday. "We could have had this done before our students even went back to school. But we're happy to be here now."

But Frazier believes a special session would've rushed a policy that wasn't ready or vetted by all stakeholders. One of his key Republican negotiators to find compromise was Rep Jeff Witte, R-Lakeville, who drew on his experience as a school resource officer for nearly three decades. 

"We all want our schools to be safe—our students, teachers and staff," Witte said. 

"We were able to come up with a bipartisan fix to this issue that quite honestly didn't need to be if it went [through] the correct process," he added later. 

The Minnesota Senate is working through revisions to its own version, though Frazier said his DFL counterparts working on it in that chamber are willing to accept the House's language. 

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