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Police departments and sheriff's offices across Minnesota that contract with school districts are reconsidering those relationships as concerns swirl over a new law restricting the use of force and restraints on students.

In some cases, that may mean the suspension of longstanding programs that use school resource officers.

"In some schools, school resource officers wear school attire," said Keith Ternes, a spokesman with the Anoka County Attorney's Office. "They may be wearing a polo with the school name on it. They occupy an office that is provided by the school."

Now with the new law, many law enforcement agencies may look for ways to minimize or eliminate formal associations with a school. That's because officers and even law enforcement agents providing security for sporting events fear they would open themselves up to lawsuits if they respond to criminal conduct with any kind of physical force.

Many agencies interpret the ban on restraints to mean that officers working in schools can respond only if they perceive an imminent threat of violence or death.

Meanwhile, police officers and sheriff's deputies on duty elsewhere — who have no contract with the school — won't be bound by those rules, effectively creating two sets of standards in responding to campus incidents.

"If they're acting as an agent of a school, the new legislative changes puts them in a position where in all practicality they have to remain hands-free," said Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association. "That's the rub."

The uncertainty comes amid the lead-up to a new school year, following one in which many districts grappled with increased disciplinary issues and disruptive behavior in classrooms and hallways.

At least two districts so far have announced they won't contract with local law enforcement to have officers patrol their campuses when classes start. Moorhead police on Thursday announced they're suspending their school resource officer program. In Andover, the Anoka County Sheriff's Office will no longer station deputies at Andover High School or Oak View Middle School.

Some metro-area school districts haven't had school resource officers on their campuses in years. The St. Paul, Minneapolis and Hopkins districts ended those programs in 2020.

Still, St. Paul Public Schools spokesperson Erica Wacker said district officials have maintained a relationship with local police and the city's Office of Neighborhood Safety.

"We are in regular communication with these partners," she said, "not only when incidents happen but routinely so that everyone is on the same page and can work together to anticipate and even prevent potential dangerous situations from happening."

Bloomington school officials and police are forging ahead with their plan to station officers in two middle schools. If those officers believe a situation will require physical intervention, they'll call for outside support.

Rick Kaufman, a spokesperson for Bloomington Public Schools, said the district will continue to work with local police "to advocate for clarifications to the law and implementation guidance."

Whether districts that still contract with law enforcement agencies will have school resource officers on their campuses in the fall remains murky. Officials in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District say they'll continue meeting with the Dakota County Sheriff's Office next week.

Republican lawmakers blame the confusion on DFLers who shepherded the sweeping education bill signed in May by Gov. Tim Walz that included the restrictions on physical holds and restraints.

"Law enforcement have been trying to find much needed clarity on what this law changes means and until they do, I expect we will see more of this across the state," Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said in a statement. "It's disappointing that in their rush to enact their partisan agenda, Democrats didn't seek out input from law enforcement on this change."

Democrats, meanwhile, say they're willing to amend the law in 2024 if confusion persists.

"Our top priority is for our students to successfully learn, and this requires a safe and healthy environment," Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said in a statement.

Still, Ternes said that schools can expect to maintain some type of relationship with police departments and sheriff's offices.

"It's complicated, but it's not as though law enforcement is just going to leave school districts on an island by themselves," he said.