by Dennis Dalman
At the request of St. Joseph Police Chief Dwight Pfannenstein, the city council at its Sept. 5 meeting agreed unanimously to drop, at least temporarily, a joint-powers agreement with the St. Cloud School District regarding school resource officers.
Earlier, on Sept. 1, the St. Cloud Police Department and the Waite Park Police Department suspended the SRO program agreement with the St. Cloud area school district, which includes St. Joseph’s Kennedy Community School and Waite Park schools and other area towns.
St. Joseph does not have an SRO at Kennedy School, but the council decided to drop the JPA so as to be on board with what has already been decided by the school district and local police departments. The JPA concerning SROs has also been dropped in many other areas of Minnesota.
The disagreements began after the Minnesota Legislature passed a new education bill, which calls for limitations on the degree of force SROs can use on students during times of disruption or crises.
A provision of the education bill states school employees and SROs can use “reasonable force when necessary to restrain a student to prevent bodily harm or death.” But such restraint would not allow for kneeling on a student lying prone on the floor or kneeling on a subdued student’s neck, for example.
Police departments throughout the state have been dropping the JPO regarding SROs because they believe any use of force (beyond what’s defined as “reasonable” in the education bill) in school crises could bring lawsuits against SROs and/or police departments.
Officers, however, will still respond to calls for assistance at schools while using the “least amount of force reasonable but necessary to bring a (crisis) situation under control.” Police officers will also continue to maintain a presence at school events for safety and law enforcement, although not in the capacity as SROs.
Gov. Tim Walz and others in the legislature have called for a special session in the hope of tweaking the defining terms of the education bill in an effort to keep the SRO program afloat.