Sen. Carla Nelson: Special session urgently needed to return SROs to schools

Senator Carla Nelson
3 min readSep 28, 2023

Note: This column was published in the Rochester Post Bulletin on September 21, 2023.

Friends and neighbors,

With the start of the new school year, serious questions linger about yet another new law passed by the legislature. Just this fall, a number of Police Chiefs across Minnesota raised concerns about a new vague and poorly vetted law affecting School Resource Officers (SROs).

SROs are highly trained police officers who build relationships in schools, respond to incidents, and most importantly, are trained to de-escalate and prevent tragedies. They provide an invaluable service, acting as mentors and role models while protecting students and staff.

The new SRO law was pushed through the legislature without enough vetting, committee hearings, or input from any law enforcement officials. The goal was improving student interactions, but in reality, the vague language brings concerns that the new law will prevent SROs from being able to keep kids and teachers safe.

Some police departments have thus withdrawn SROs from schools. This leaves many students returning to school without a dedicated sworn officer present to ensure safety and security. The legal uncertainty leading to the removal of SROs creates an urgent public safety risk.

The new law was so vague and poorly written that Attorney General Keith Ellison released an opinion to clarify the issue. His opinion stated: “The Amendment (new SRO law) does not limit the types of reasonable force that may be used by school staff and agents to prevent bodily harm or death. The test for reasonable force remains unchanged, and is highly fact-specific.”

While a step forward, Attorney General Ellison only addressed part of the problem. Attorney General Ellison was notably silent on the issue of reasonable force to protect students and staff from trespassing and to prevent property damage.

Law enforcement remains concerned. In a letter to its members, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers, Minnesota Chiefs of Police, and Minnesota Sheriffs Associations wrote:

“The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, along with the Minnesota Chiefs of Police and Minnesota Sheriffs’ Associations, are greatly concerned by the uncertainty of the language, the application of the amended law, and the increased liability, both civilly and criminally, that may occur. The unintended consequences of this new law limit the lawful authority of SRO’s to keep children safe at school and those contracted with school districts to provide safety to the students, players and staff.”

The current new law limits the ability of SROs and anyone employed by the school to defuse these dangerous situations. Unfortunately, more than 40 legislators (all Democrats) signed a letter opposing any changes to the new law. Their refusal, and the subsequent refusal of Gov. Walz, to act to protect parents, school officials, and law enforcement is alarming. Ensuring school safety for students and all school personnel is essential and restoring SRO programs should be an easy bipartisan priority.

That is why I support a straightforward solution. Gov. Walz should immediately call a Special Session to pass a bill restoring the previous law. It would retain restrictions on chokeholds and neck restraints and would allow SROs to return to schools quickly.

This is a time for swift action, not partisan games. It is important that the Governor and his fellow Democrat legislative majorities in the Senate and House heed the call to clarify the SRO language in order to keep our students and teachers safe in schools.