Gov. Tim Walz says he's open to calling a special legislative session to clarify a controversial new law on student restraints that has led some law enforcement agencies to pull officers from schools.
Walz said at a back-to-school event in Bloomington on Tuesday that "we all want a solution" to confusion over a law passed in May that restricts the kinds of physical holds police can place students in. Police agencies and groups representing law enforcement have said it will limit their ability to resolve problems in schools.
"At this point in time we don't know exactly what that's going to look like," Walz said. "I'm certainly open to anything that provides a solution to that, if that means the Legislature working it out."
Walz's announcement comes as an increasing number of law enforcement agencies suspend their school resource officer programs. Police departments and sheriff's offices have completely pulled their school resource officer programs in the Wayzata, St. Cloud and Burnsville-Eagan-Savage districts.
In the South Washington County, Bloomington, Rochester, Minnetonka and Lakeville districts, police departments and sheriff's offices will continue to station officers in schools, in some cases expanding their ranks.
Still, several large districts will have a patchwork of changes owing to their large geographic footprint. New Hope police will continue to station an officer at Cooper High but Plymouth police are pulling out of Armstrong and Plymouth High schools in the Robbinsdale district.
Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest school district, will lose all but one of the 12 cops that once patrolled its middle and high schools. Brooklyn Park police will continue to station an officer at Champlin Park High, which enrolls about 3,000 students. All told, there are about 20,000 middle and high schoolers enrolled in Anoka-Hennepin schools.
"That's how many students these SROs are protecting," Anoka-Hennepin spokesman Jim Skelly said.
The patchwork nature of the law enforcement agencies' either suspending or maintaining their school resource officer programs illustrates the range of interpretation to the legislation banning certain physical holds on students. Several school district officials say they're continuing their conversations with police departments and sheriff's offices to determine what their school safety plans will look like.
Some police groups and county attorneys have interpreted the law to prevent most physical restraints unless the threat of bodily harm or death is "imminent."
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a legal opinion saying the law doesn't bar officers from "reasonable" uses of force. Walz, who first commented about the possibility of a special session to WCCO over the weekend, said Tuesday that Ellison's opinion has satisfied some districts, but others have told his office that the law still lacks clarity.
"Is there a solution that works best to make sure that we have those trusted adults in the building where the districts want them to be, and that it satisfies everyone?" Walz said.
"The issue around the use of force in these situations is such a rarity in these situations. The value of the [school resource officers] in the building is the adult relationships that are built long before anything happens; all of those things get averted when we have those relationships," he added.
Last week, legislative Republicans held a news conference to encourage Walz to call lawmakers back and repeal the law. Only the governor can summon lawmakers into a special session.
"I was very, very pleased the governor is sounding a little bit more open," said Republican House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, who added that they are willing to discuss bill language that isn't a full repeal of the law. "We recognize there is ambiguity and it needs clarification, and Republicans in the House are ready to get to work."
In most places where law enforcement agencies have suspended their programs, police departments and sheriff's offices have committed to maintaining patrols near schools. Mounds View police and Ramsey County sheriff's deputies, for example, may still visit schools in the Mounds View district even if they aren't stationed there.
"It is clear that this issue will continue to evolve as we enter the school year," Mounds View district spokesman Colin Sokolowski said.
In St. Cloud, which announced a suspension of the program late last week, officers at school events will likely be in full uniform and no longer engage in educational programming, St. Cloud Superintendent Laurie Putnam said Friday. But the district's focus on safety is unchanged, she said.
"Along with local law enforcement, our priority is student and staff safety," she said. "That has not, and will not, change."
Walz said there's a middle ground to be reached that he hopes will satisfy everyone.
"All of us want our buildings safe and all of us want to make sure that excessive force is not used on our students, and finding that middle ground shouldn't be all that difficult."
Star Tribune staff writer Jenny Berg contributed to this story.