Gov. Tim Walz and DFL legislative leaders wouldn’t answer directly Wednesday whether they support requests from a number of law enforcement leaders, and the GOP, to call a special session to fix a new law that restricts certain types of restraints school resource officers can use on school campuses.
Instead, Walz and four DFL education committee chairs in the House and Senate released statements echoing their support for SROs in schools. Those statements — which were ambiguous with respect to the request for a special session — came as some of their Democratic colleagues openly criticized law enforcement officials over the last week who have said Walz and the legislature need to fix the law immediately before they would send their SROs back into schools.
One such person is Javier Morillo, a former union leader who was appointed to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees by Gov. Walz in 2020. In a series of tweets, Morillo claimed police officers are “super excited about choking children.”
“The best argument for keeping cops out of schools is being made by police themselves when they tell us they won’t do the job unless they can choke your kids,” he wrote. “We’ve seen it over and over again. If they can’t police like they want to (choke your kids) they won’t police at all.”
Minnesota banned chokeholds in 2020 under a bipartisan bill; police say the restrictions in the new law are vague and confusing.
Morillo did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication, but Minnesota GOP Chair David Hann called on Gov. Walz to “disavow” the comments from Morillo, who helps oversee a system of schools that train the majority of Minnesota’s law enforcement officers.
“Gov. Tim Walz must disavow the reckless and false statements made by Javier Morillo — his hand-picked appointee to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees — about law enforcement in Minnesota. Mr. Morillo’s hateful remarks reflect the Minnesota DFL’s anti-police agenda that has put students, teachers, and staff in danger,” Hann told Alpha News.
“Gov. Walz should disavow Mr. Morillo’s comments and stand with law enforcement in ensuring parents, students, teachers, and staff are safe at our schools.”
Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, also took to social media to question whether SROs “actually improve school safety.”
Another, Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, said in recent video statements she published on TikTok that “SROs are the only ones who have a problem” with the new law, and alleged that is because “they don’t want to learn a new way to behave.”
Amid those critiques, DFL legislators who lead education committees in the House and Senate released a joint statement Wednesday that expressed support for police officers in schools. But it stopped short of saying whether they support a special session.
“We are united in our commitment to ensuring a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment for students and everyone who works in our Minnesota schools,” read a joint statement released by House members Laurie Pryor of Minnetonka and Cheryl Youakim of Hopkins, and Sens. Mary Kunesh of New Brighton and Steve Cwodzinski of Eden Prairie. “We value the role that School Resource Officers play in keeping schools safe, and [Gov.] Walz’s administration is working diligently to ensure that districts and law enforcement have the guidance they need to do their jobs effectively.”
Pryor and Cwodzinski serve as chairs of the House and Senate Education Policy committees. Youakim and Kunesh serve as chairs of the House and Senate Education Finance committees.
Walz himself issued a similar statement through communications staff following a Wednesday GOP-led press conference where a handful of school district administrators and law enforcement leaders were on hand to join Republicans in asking the governor to call a special session. They said it is needed to fix the new law they say hamstrings SROs in effectively responding to criminal behavior involving students.
“Our administration will continue working with school districts and law enforcement agencies to ensure they have the guidance and resources they need to do their jobs effectively,” Walz said in a statement distributed to media. That came after the governor told media earlier this month that the “way the law was written on this was prohibiting things like chokeholds, neck holds on students,” an assessment that law enforcement leaders dispute.
A growing number of law enforcement agencies across the state have pulled their SROs from schools this month as they believe the new law has broader ramifications than what Walz has told media. Some of the agencies include the Plymouth Police Department, Burnsville Police Department, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (led by a Democrat), Champlin Police Department, Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, Clay County Sheriff’s Office, and the Coon Rapids Police Department.
Coon Rapids Police Chief Bill Steiner summarized the issue succinctly: “The new language details that SROs can only use force when there is a threat of bodily harm or death, but it does not address many other violations of state law that officers encounter every week in schools, such as a student damaging property, theft, trespassing or disorderly conduct.”
Walz’s statements and those of the DFL chairs for legislative education committees came after Maye Quade, a vice chair for the Senate Education Policy Committee, posted statements via social media over the last week alleging that the concerns expressed by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and Minnesota Peace and Police Officers Association are unfounded.
In two TikTok video statements, Maye Quade tells her audience that the Senate Education Policy Committee she sits on went through SF1311 “line-by-line,” including the provision that changes how and when school resource officers can use physical restraints in schools. But she doesn’t say whether any member of the Senate DFL caucus or the governor’s office ever reached out to law enforcement professionals about the changes as they were proposed during the legislative session. The language she cites was one of dozens of wide-ranging education policy provisions bundled into an omnibus education bill that the DFL majority House and Senate passed in May.
“Here’s what’s really going on,” Maye Quade posted in the video statement. “Law enforcement is now upset that there is now two sets of standards … They don’t want to have to learn a new way to behave.”
Earlier this month, Sen. Zack Duckworth, R-Lakeville, took to Twitter to express support for a fix to the new law, and referred back to his comments during a February hearing on the bill, where he brought up the provision in question. No one at the hearing — including Maye Quade — chimed in on Duckworth’s concerns.
The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association maintains that leaders in the public safety community were never invited by Walz’s staff in the Department of Education (which wrote the bill) during the legislative session “to provide input, perspective, or feedback on the unintended consequences of this significant law change.”
Other Democrats were more measured in their contributions to the conversation following the requests for Walz to call a special session.
“After speaking (with) several law enforcement officials & after recent news that St. Louis County is pulling School Resource Officers (SRO’s), I expect that the MN Department of Ed will work diligently to clarify the law they proposed to protect our kids & teachers,” Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, wrote in a statement he published on social media. “If they are unable to do that, then I am committed to working diligently & in a bipartisan fashion on legislation to address the issue.”
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.