Walz weighing special session on student restraint law

Published 4:50 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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By Dana Ferguson

Gov. Tim Walz says he’s working with police groups and school districts to clarify a law banning the use of prone restraints on students.

Walz told reporters Tuesday that his administration has spoken with local leaders to explain the law and how it should be implemented. And he said he’s open to calling a special legislative session to tweak the policy.

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Several police groups and Republican lawmakers have urged Walz to bring the Legislature back to rewrite the policy, which they say would limit school resource officers. And a handful have decided not to staff school resource officers this year because of concerns about officer liability.

Others have changed the way they monitor schools to adapt to the policy change.

“The issue is that there’s not clarification. That’s why we’re trying to find a solution,” Walz said after welcoming students on the first day of school at a Bloomington elementary school. “I’ve said, if we need to, there needs to be a clarification in the law. Let’s figure out how we work that together, striking that balance between students’ safety, trusted adults in the building and appropriate use of physical force, if needed.”

State lawmakers this spring approved the policy as part of a larger education bill. The law says that school employees and school resource officers can’t physically restrain students in a way that impacts their ability to breathe or voice distress — including holds that put students face down on the ground.

A similar policy banning prone restraints on students with disabilities has been on the books since 2015. Lawmakers this year expanded the policy to cover all students. The Walz administration supported the change, and bill authors said it could limit instances of force against students.

Attorney General Keith Ellison last month issued a clarification, noting that the law and existing case law would allow school employees and school resource officers to use the prone holds in situations where there was a risk of injury or death. But police groups say the law is still murky.

In a report presented to the Legislature late last year, the Minnesota Department of Education said it tracked more than 10,000 physical holds of students during the 2021-2022 school year. That is the most recent data available. The report did not elaborate on how many of those were prone holds or holds that impacted student breathing.