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Minnesota students can't be held in a prone position or subjected to "comprehensive restraint on the head, neck and across most of the torso" under a new state law — and law enforcement officials are questioning whether it will prevent them from doing their job.

Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz and other state leaders this week outlining concerns that banning the maneuvers rob school resources officers (SROs) of tools to break up fights in school hallways.

"Prohibiting the most basic measure of safely restraining and controlling the aggressor in a fight severely impacts the SRO's ability to intervene, stop the altercation, and protect everyone's safety," Potts wrote.

The provision was in the sweeping education bill Walz signed earlier this year. Some of the holds it prohibits have already been banned in specific circumstances; placing children in the prone position has been banned in special education settings for nearly a decade.

At a news conference Wednesday, Walz said he received the letter and his staff reviewed the law, which includes "exceptions for health and safety of students and the officers."

"I certainly think we should agree that we should not be on the necks of students unless someone's life is at risk, and that was written in the law to be able to do that," Walz said.

But Potts said in an interview the law isn't clear enough and could leave officers open to lawsuits.

Sometimes police will arrive at the scene of a confrontation and one student will already be on the ground, Potts said. An officer might keep that student on the ground by applying pressure to the torso.

Potts said state officials have said officers may use force in "emergency situations." But he wants clarity, via a special session called by the governor or orders from the attorney general's office, to ensure school resource officers aren't unfairly maligned for addressing common issues in schools.

"They're not going far enough in telling us what the alternatives are," Potts said. "What reasonable options does the officer have? That's what we want to know."

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association sent a letter to its members this week raising similar concerns and urging them to be cautious of school assignments until there's more clarity.

The disagreement comes as schools grapple with a rise in disciplinary issues wrought by the pandemic, coupled with increased scrutiny placed on police in the wake of George Floyd's murder. The St. Paul, Minneapolis and Hopkins districts eliminated their use of armed police in school hallways in 2020.

In Bloomington, officials have added police to three middle schools to supplement the school resource officers that already patrol the district's two high schools.

Brooklyn Park Police Chief Mark Bruly said, "We are in some of the most contentious times for law enforcement."

Because of increasing hostility toward police and the lack of clarity in the new law, some of his officers have become hesitant to take on assignments in schools.

"I have SROs that are refusing to go back on the job because I can't give them assurances," Bruly said.

Minnesota Department of Education spokesman Kevin Burns said in an email that the agency will soon provide school districts with clarification and guidance on the new law.

"Minnesota schools are places where every student should feel safe and supported, which may include collaboration and a working relationship with their local law enforcement agency," Burns said. "We know the safety and security of all people in our schools is a priority."

The League of Minnesota Cities has issued new guidelines through its online training program for the state's law enforcement officers. A memo from the organization outlines some common police tactics the new law would force officers to reconsider.

For instance, the memo says, a school resource officer is barred from intervening when a student tosses lunch trays in a cafeteria because the pupil isn't causing themselves or anyone else bodily harm. But in another scenario, it says an officer has to consider whether to put an aggressive student in a bear hug to keep him from attacking a peer.

"When force must be used, prone and compressive restraint are off the table, and officers and agencies should consider and train in advance in whatever appropriate alternatives may be deployed," the memo said.

It is unclear how often educators and school resource officers employ such physical holds on students. The new law requires districts to report such incidents to the Minnesota Department of Education, beginning in July 2024.

Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Josie Albertson-Grove contributed to this story.