February 27, 2024

February 2024 Research Rundown

By Madie Spartz

This year, the debate around the use of prone restraint by School Resource Officers (SROs) is dominating education policy conversations at the Capitol. This month’s Research Rundown highlights research on the topics at hand: restraint-related fatalities of children, the effects of police in schools on discipline, and the relationship between school-based police and long-term educational outcomes for students.

A 26-Year Study of Restraint Fatalities Among Children and Adolescents in the United States

Child and Youth Care Forum, August 2021

This study aimed to understand the factors that led to restraint-related fatalities of minors in child welfare agencies, correctional institutions, schools, and disability services. The authors found 79 restraint-related deaths from 1993-2018, with 38 of those deaths resulting from prone restraint. The authors attribute these deaths to a variety of factors, including:

  • Staff with no medical background making medical decisions
  • The child’s history with trauma contributing to extreme physiological reactivity, such as hyperventilation or increased heart rate
  • “Safety deafness,” where the child’s pleas for help are not taken seriously

The authors suggest that “by allowing the use of restraints, leaders ask staff to make high-consequence choices rapidly and under pressure.” They assert that if restraints must be used, they require training in non-aggressive crisis management tactics, knowledge of a child’s medical history and trauma, and monitoring by supervisors or medical personnel during restraint.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Lawmakers are poised to roll back limits on the use of prone restraint and other dangerous holds that passed last year for all staff in a school building, including SROs. The 2023 law limited the use of prone restraint to only situations that presented an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death. The 2024 bill would exempt SROs from this ban and effectively allow prone restraint even if those thresholds aren’t met. The bill would also ask the Board of Peace Officer Standards & Training to create a new model policy for SROs. As legislators debate the use of prone restraint, and going forward as the POST board, districts, and law enforcement implement high-stakes policies, understanding the research and risks should be a top priority. 

Moreover, it is important that we begin to gather and assess local data to inform the ongoing conversation. Our state has not historically collected data on the use of prone restraint or other physical holds in schools, but lawmakers changed that last year, and districts are now required to report all cases of restraints in schools on an annual basis. This data collection will be critical in understanding how restraints are used, on who, and why.


The Thin Blue Line in Schools: New Evidence on School-Based Policing Across the U.S.

University at Albany, State University of New York, April 2023

We highlighted this study in August this year. Given the policy debates at the Capitol and relatively little research on police in schools, we are discussing it again this month.

This study examines the relationship between school resource officers (SROs) and school environment & student outcomes. Using data from schools across the country, the authors compared schools with SRO placements to similar schools without SRO presence. They found that SROs in schools “modestly reduce” some forms of violence in schools, like fights and threats, but do not reduce gun-related incidents. However, these reductions come at “very high cost to students.” 

The authors found that SROs increase the use of out-of-school suspensions by up to 80%, expulsions by up to 90%, and student arrests & police referrals by up to 50%. Those disciplinary and police actions were consistently largest for Black students, students with disabilities, and male students. The researchers also looked at effects on grade retention and chronic absenteeism, but didn’t find meaningful relationships to SRO presence in either case.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Minnesota’s own data echoes many of the findings in this national study—particularly when it comes to disparities, with Black students, Indigenous students, and students with disabilities being far more likely to be suspended or expelled. As Minnesota considers developing a model policy for SROs, all parties involved should explore research on the risks, benefits, and challenges of school-based policing, and develop strategies to ameliorate the negative impacts on students.


Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long-Term Education Outcomes

Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, February 2019

The research conducted in this paper is some of the only research on the relationship between police in schools and academic outcomes. The author found that schools using a federal grant to hire police saw increases in middle school discipline rates, with effects largest for low-income Black and Latino students. They also saw a small but significant decrease in high school graduation and college enrollment across demographic groups.

This study is unique. Much of the prior research on this topic was conducted using small samples, but this author studied data on 2.5 million students in Texas. While the author can’t definitively say why exposure to federal police funding led to decreased graduation rates, she writes that increased disciplinary action can shape how students are perceived by teachers and cause overall disengagement with school.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

There are serious racial and economic disparities in both high school graduation and college attendance rates in Minnesota. And, as previously mentioned, Minnesota’s discipline disparities echo those found in this study and many others. As lawmakers continue to debate the role and responsibilities of police in schools, it’s important they consider all implications of any policy they pass and take proactive steps to interrupt practices and patterns that increase disparities. While the current debate has focused on discipline, safety, and violence, this study illustrates that those are not the only factors that SROs can influence.


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