Updated: Aug 29
The Pine City School Board voted to terminate its School Resource Officer (SRO) contract with the Pine County Sheriff's Office during a meeting Monday night.
This decision follows concerns raised by law enforcement over provisions included in the 2023 education bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz in May that would prohibit restraints used by law enforcement contracted by school districts.
"One simple word of taking out an 'or' in a statute totally changed how we can function as a police officer within a school in a contracted situation," Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson told the board.
According to the revised law, legislators removed an "or" from a section pertaining to the reasonable use of force standard. Now stating:
"A school employee, school bus driver, or other agent of a district, in exercising the person's lawful authority, may use reasonable force when it is necessary under the circumstances to restrain a student or to prevent bodily harm or death to the student or to another."
The law also limits the use of a prone restraint and other physical holds that could restrict breathing. In an article, the Star Tribune noted that using prone restraints has been banned in special education since 2015.
Sheriff Nelson said that the changes have law enforcement questioning when students are acting out but not harming others. One of the examples Sheriff Nelson used was a student acting out at lunch, who is shouting and throwing their lunch tray at the floor.
"One would assume that when a deputy shows up they can be a deputy and use a certain amount of force to restrain that student from doing property damage and disrupting the entire lunch assembly," said Nelson. "Based on the guidelines we are receiving, that is not the case."
These changes only affect law enforcement that is contracted by the school. If a sheriff's deputy was called to Pine City Schools, they would not have to abide by the changes to the law.
Sheriff Nelson said the legal opinions he has received are vague enough that he does not want to put his deputies in a potentially bad situation.
Members of the Pine City School Board called for the community to reach out to their representatives to call for a special session in order to clarify the new laws.
During the discussion on August 21, Superintendent Cindy Stolp said the decision to end the contract is a mutual one.
"This is the best decision in a really tight jam," Stolp said.
Despite no official SRO, Sheriff Nelson plans on still staffing a deputy at Pine City Schools as a workaround.
"So in the short term, the staff, parents, and students that go here can expect to continue to see deputies in the school and still have a similar level of protect," School Board Chair James Foster asked Sheriff Nelson.
"As of right now, if we don't have the contract, we can still walk through the building as law enforcement and not be held to those standards," Sheriff Nelson replied.