Republicans to Walz: Call special session to repeal new law impacting school safety

Sheriffs in Hennepin and Anoka counties, along with several police departments across Minnesota, announced they won’t send SROs back to school until the new law is fixed.

Rep. Jeff Witte, R-Lakeville, addresses media at a press conference where Republicans asked Gov. Tim Walz to call a special session to repeal a new law that a growing number of law enforcement agencies say will prevent school resource officers from being able to keep students safe in secondary schools. Witte is a former school resources officer. (Minnesota Senate Media)

growing number of law enforcement agencies across Minnesota continue to say they will pull their school resource officers from secondary schools this fall following concerns over a new state law that prohibits certain types of restraints those officers can use on school campuses.

And now Republican legislators are asking Gov. Tim Walz to call a special session to remedy the issue.

They say they’ve found some bipartisan support for a bill that would repeal the new law — contained in a sweeping education policy bill the DFL majority passed in May — that has led a number of law enforcement agencies across the metro and in Greater Minnesota to announce they won’t send their SROs into the schools because of fear of legal ramifications. That includes the sheriff’s offices in Anoka and Hennepin counties and several police departments.

Those agencies — along with the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association — contend the law effectively prevents SROs from safely intervening in situations that involve illegal activity.

Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a legal opinion last week that clarified that the changes to the law “do not limit the types of force that may be used by school employees and agents to prevent bodily harm or death, but retain the instruction that force must be ‘reasonable’ in those situations.”

But the law is ambiguous in cases where there is illegal activity but no threat of bodily harm or death, police groups argue. Ellison acknowledged in his legal opinion that these additional questions are “more appropriately directed at the Legislature.”

On Wednesday, Sen. Zack Duckworth, R-Lakeville, told media during a joint press conference organized by House and Senate Republicans at the Capitol that he’s received word from Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, that Hoffman would sign onto the legislation to repeal the law if Walz were to call a special session. Democrats hold a one-seat majority in the Senate.

“[This request for a special session] is not a political statement,” Duckworth said Wednesday. “It simply says, ‘Let’s go back to where we were before this issue and let’s fix it.'”

“We are asking for the governor’s help. This is a timely issue. It is urgent … it’s a failure of leadership, in the eyes of parents, if we say we’re going to wait six months or more when we can solve this issue immediately.”

A request for comment from the governor’s office wasn’t immediately returned on Wednesday afternoon.

Language containing the changes in the law that now prohibits “prone restraint and certain physical holds” was inserted this spring as a provision to an omnibus education finance and policy bill that Gov. Walz signed in May. The changes to the statute that governs use of physical restraint on pupils in schools went into effect on Aug. 1.

Other Republican legislators at the Wednesday press conference included House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth and Rep. Jeff Witte, a retired police officer and former SRO who represents Lakeville.

“This [new] law makes our kids, teachers and schools less safe,” Witte said, “and its needs to be fixed before school starts.”

“SROs play a critical role in keeping our schools safe, and now is not the time for partisanship or political games,” Witte added. “We need a special session. We need to get swift action and get our school resource officers back into the schools”

School administrators from the Centennial School District and law enforcement leaders were also on hand in support of the request to Walz to call a special session.

“The varying interpretations have created confusion about how to respond to and manage incidents in our schools. Attorney General Keith Ellison even issued binding guidance in which he indicated that the questions we continue to have are ‘more appropriately directed at the legislature,'” Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany said. “It is hard enough for our educators and our peace officers to manage at times chaotic, violent, and unusual situations involving our children and their safety. Having to navigate the legal confusion surrounding that in a split-second sets up all involved for failure.”

The MPPOA also called for a special session to address this “singular issue” in a statement Wednesday.

“We all agree that we need to retain cops in schools but not under a contract while this language is contained in statute,” David Titus, president for the MPPOA, told Alpha News. “Anything short of an immediate special session will jeopardize officer and public safety and create liabilities for individual officers. This is not about politics or the rhetoric that’s being spewed. This is about safety, period.”

House Minority Leader Demuth and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, sent a joint letter on behalf of their Republican colleagues to Walz on Wednesday asking him to call a special session and saying the “real-world impacts of this legislation are undeniable.”

“It is an unfortunate reality that there are times within the school day SROs are called upon to restrain students from causing harm to themselves, the school, or others in the building,” Demuth and Johnson wrote in the letter to Walz. “We have all heard the concerns from SROs that they need legislative action to know they can do their job as they have been trained. Students and teachers are less safe than they were a year ago as a direct result of the loss of school resource officers.”

Earlier this month Walz told media his legal team had received written concerns from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and that he was meeting with legal staff to “clarify the law.”


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.