Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
While welcoming students back to school on Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters that he's "open" to calling a special legislative session to clarify a new law on restraining students. He ought to do more than consider the possibility.
Without delay, the governor should call on the Legislature to briefly reconvene and revise the statue that is causing some law enforcement agencies to pull student resource officers (SROs) from schools.
Due to newly adopted rules on certain types of holds, an estimated 40 districts are without SROs this year. Those changes were approved during the 2023 legislative session as part of the education bill.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a legal opinion that says the law doesn't prevent officers from "reasonable" uses of force. During the Labor Day holiday weekend, Walz said that Ellison's opinion satisfied some law enforcement agencies and school districts, and in those cases SROs returned to work this week.
Still, because of the vagueness of the language, some law enforcement organizations and county attorneys have interpreted it to mean that most physical restraints are prohibited.
Those agencies that decided to end or suspend their agreements to provide SROs just before Minnesota schools reopened are understandably concerned that officers could be held liable if they need to restrict a student's movement in emergency situations.
The Wayzata, St. Cloud and Burnsville-Eagan-Savage districts are without SROs after police departments and sheriff's offices pulled their officers.
Late last week, St. Cloud Police Chief Jeff Oxton said his department will suspend its school resource officer program due to uncertainty over the law.
"We look forward to re-implementing this program as soon as the law has been changed to eliminate the ambiguity and conflict with other governing laws and policies, all of which were created when the new legislation went into effect," Oxton said in a release.
On Tuesday, Walz said he agreed that "we all want a solution" to the confusion over the law.
"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."
A spokeswoman for the governor told an editorial writer in an email that officials with the Education Department and the Department of Public Safety "are meeting daily with stakeholders to see if clarification and understanding can be reached without a special session," especially in light of Ellison's opinion. The spokeswoman reiterated that Walz remains open to a special session "given all parties can agree on language" that lawmakers would support.
It's a positive sign that GOP lawmakers pressed for changes in the law and that Walz is open to making them. A brief special session could be called to deal with only the one issue. If lawmakers complicate matters by trying to use a session to address other laws, there's a risk that nothing will get done.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously argued, school districts that have determined that SROs are needed in their schools should be able to have them. The governor and Legislature should meet to make this correction ASAP.
Walz correctly assessed the big picture on Tuesday: "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."