Minnesota Democratic lawmakers are working on legislation that would walk back portions of a law passed last session that limits how school police can physically restrain students.
A draft of the bill obtained by the Reformer would repeal a ban on school police putting students in the prone position, or face down, as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin restrained George Floyd, killing him.
The proposed changes come after an intensive lobbying campaign by police interest groups and their allies kicked off just as the school year started.
The current law was tucked into a massive 2023 education bill. In addition to the prohibition on prone holds, the law prohibits school employees — including school resource officers — from using any kind of hold that inhibits a student’s ability to breathe or communicate distress, except to prevent bodily harm or death.
In 2021, lawmakers barred prison and jail guards from using the same holds, with the support of most Senate Republicans. But after the ban was extended to school cops with little notice last session, some police departments began pulling their officers from schools. Republicans and the police lobby pressured Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz to lift the ban. In September, DFL leaderspromised to hold hearings on the issue during the upcoming session, which begins Feb. 12.
The draft bill has already stoked opposition among both sides of the debate.
It exempts school cops or security guards from the ban and requires school officers to get training beginning in mid-2025. It retains a requirement that schools report use-of-force data to the state annually. The officers would not be allowed to help enforce run-of-the-mill school rules, and would be required to foster a positive school climate.
The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST Board, would consult with education and policing stakeholders to develop a model policy that school districts would adopt. The policy must consider the “proper use of force on school grounds, including response tactics and strategies that minimize the use of prone restraint.” The proposal would also add staff to the state Department of Public Safety’s school safety center.
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, and Sen. Bonnie Westlin, DFL-Plymouth, will carry the bill. Plymouth’s police department was among those that pulled officers from schools over the ban. (The St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts eliminated school police in 2020, after Floyd’s killing.)
Frazier was co-chair of the House People of Color and Indigenous caucus that rejected the idea of a special session to roll back the ban on prone holds. The caucus were among 44 DFL lawmakers who opposed changing the law.
Frazier said the legislation is still a work in process, but will create uniformity around the state by defining school resource officers and clarifying that their job is not to mete out discipline or enforce the school handbook.
He once worked as general counsel for a school district, defending cases involving school resource officers. He said the bill authors are trying to incorporate law enforcement needs while also considering young people.
“These are kids, kids being kids in a school setting where they believe they can be kids,” he said. “I think we can’t have this conversation without having that voice. They’re compelled to be there. They don’t have a choice.”
The draft legislation has already drawn detractors on both sides of the debate.
A person involved in the negotiations, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the ongoing talks, said they get the sense that the Walz administration wants the issue to go away as quickly as possible so it’s not a campaign issue that could hurt them in November House races. A number of DFL lawmakers in swing districts wanted a special session to mollify the police lobby, the source said.
The Walz administration referred questions to the Department of Public Safety, whose spokesman Howie Padilla released a statement saying, “We continue to engage lawmakers, law enforcement, school administrators, teachers and advocates to work toward a solution on this issue this session.”
Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which represents over 10,000 officers, said, “I think they’re just kicking it down the (road) past the elections … I honestly think it’s a problem for the Democrats.”
Policing groups like the part repealing the restraint ban but are skeptical of the portion requiring a model school policy to be drafted because they say law enforcement is outnumbered by activists on the proposed group charged with drafting the model policy, Peters said. The police groups fear the panel could end up banning restraints again and want to add two law enforcement groups to the panel.
The MPPOA also opposes two use-of-force standards — one for school police and one for other cops who could be called into schools to assist. Regular officers can’t do certain chokeholds but can use prone restraints, Peters said.
The policing groups are waiting to see the latest revisions to the draft, Peters said.
“Until then, we can’t say we sign off on the bill,” Peters said. “We don’t trust it. That’s why we want to make sure law enforcement has a voice.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman confirmed she wants to have a hearing on the bill on the first day of the legislative session.
Meanwhile, the other side isn’t happy with the bill draft, either.
Erin Sandsmark of Solutions Not Suspensions, a coalition that supports anti-racist education, said the group has had two meetings with the Walz administration about the proposed fix. The coalition opposes the repeal of the prone restraint ban.
“It doesn’t remove the harm from schools,” Sandsmark said. “So it’s basically allowing SROs to be held to a different standard of care for our students.”
Her organization wants more community groups involved in drafting the model policy, and opposes the deletion of the word “imminent” in the portion of the law that makes exceptions for bodily harm or deaths. That reduces the threshold of engagement and increases the likelihood of a dangerous incident, Sandsmark said.
“It feels political to us and we haven’t heard from the administration … on why they think it’s important to put children on the ground in the prone position,” she said. “It kind of gets talked around.”
Asked why the DFL is backing down on the issue, Frazier said Attorney General Keith Ellison has already opined that school officers have the ability to use reasonable force, which can include prone holds in certain situations. The bill codifies the Ellison opinion, Frazier said.
“You’re not going to please everybody, but I do think this is better than what we had before,” he said. “I try to be guided by my values, not based on politics.”
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