February 1, 2024

Dangerous Hold Protections for Kids Are Simple and Don’t Need to be Repealed

By Erin Sandsmark

The first bell had barely rung in the 2023 school year before students, parents, and educators were faced with a tense policy battle. A new law limiting when adults can use dangerous holds on students was suddenly rejected by a few law enforcement departments who pulled their SROs from schools in protest. 

This decision set off a statewide debate on the role of police within schools. Many police officers claimed that the law is unclear (it’s not) and that meaningful change is necessary to clarify the law. With Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty stepping in to provide additional clarity, Governor Walz resisted calls for a special session, promising to return to the issue during the scheduled 2024 session. However, the debate remained open, and into the new year, some have supported the police and have called for the law to be “more clear,” giving the School Resource Officer and other special interest groups the political backing to totally gut the law of any meaningful policy that protects students.

As the lead of the Solutions Not Suspensions Coalition—a group of students, families, community members, and organizations committed to changing policies, practices, and mindsets specifically on discipline issues—this issue has been a top priority. Governor Walz and Minnesota legislators have noted that reopening the debate will be one of the first items on the agenda when the 2024 legislative session begins on February 12, and we are committed to ensuring students and families—particularly those from communities most heavily impacted by unfair discipline practices—have a seat at the table for this important conversation around school safety. Our communities have, until this point, been sidelined during this debate.

What’s Being Debated

Police lobbyist groups have argued that the law is confusing—ultimately pushing for legislative repeal. It’s a tactic that distracts from the spirit and the letter of the law: making sure that children are not subjected to dangerous holds when they present no threat to themselves or others. It is reasonable to expect adults, especially police officers, to exercise judgment and limit violent force when interacting with children.

The law is unambiguous and serves a crucial purpose: protecting our children from unnecessary and potentially harmful physical restraint from adults, including police officers, in schools. So where does the confusion come in? In some cases, bad faith interpretations have allowed rumors to spread, implying that adults can no longer intervene in dangerous situations. In reality, the law explicitly allows for reasonable force in situations where there is a risk of bodily harm or death to others. And in other cases, debates have circled in the legal weeds around which section of the statute applies to SROs and other adults in schools. A recent EdAllies podcast, featuring legal analysis from Maren Hulden, a Supervising Attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid who has extensive hands-on experience in protecting children, helps spell out exactly what the law says. 

While many have made the case that the current law is clear, even those who disagree should not use it as a window to walk back on the actual intent of the new limitations. Minnesota must continue to ensure a fair and necessary standard to uphold the safety and dignity of our students.

Why It Matters

The law on dangerous holds was put in place for a reason—and the Solutions Not Suspensions Coalition and our partners were part of a growing push to ban both in schools and beyond. In fact, a few years ago, Minnesota passed a ban on prone restraints in prisons because they are too dangerous and carry with them the potential for serious harm and even death. An investigation by KARE11 (MN) and KUSA (CO) “found a pattern of deaths across the United States—identifying 120 other people in the last decade, who like George Floyd, died while being held prone by officers.” Moreover, similar bans are already in place for students with disabilities within our K-12 system (another issue Maren unpacks on the podcast). Unsafe holds simply have no place in our schools, and it’s a line we should not walk back. 

The debate around reasonable force and police accountability is a big one, but on an issue where there is already significant precedent, the choice to draw a line and withdraw contracts from schools is ultimately a political one. Most schools with SROs stayed on the job, and others renewed their contracts as soon as they had legal clarity—highlighting that current law, for most police officers, does not need to be treated as a dealbreaker in working in schools. Despite this, some have used the issue as a tool to leverage the repeal of an important policy.

I urge those who continue to claim that the law is confusing to simply read the very short laws on when adults can use physical force and what holds are too dangerous to use in schools. The law is straightforward: children should not be subjected to dangerous restraints unless they pose an imminent threat to themselves or others. 

This session, lawmakers must resist pressure to gut this critical legislation in response to the false claims that the laws are “unclear.” Our focus should be on creating safe, nurturing environments for our students, not on granting unchecked powers to those who should be their protectors. 

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