Youth Speak Up on SRO Legislation

By: Jaiden Leary, Community Journalist-in-Training

Luka Jacobi-Khron of the Minnesota Youth Council testified on February 13th about SRO’s. 

Community members, law enforcement legislators, and youth activists all came together this session to address a topic that has emerged for two years in a row: school resource officers (SRO’s). In the 2023 legislative cycle and the current 2024 session, SRO’s have been on the legislative agenda. This year, legislators are specifically focusing on the usage of prone restraints by SRO’s, a method of intervention where a person’s face and front part of their body is positioned against the ground. 

A controversy has arisen surrounding prone restraints, following passage of last year’s legislation. Representative Cedrick Fraizer of District 43A (DFL) which makes up Crystal and New Hope, said that there is a lot of confusion around what occurred last legislative cycle. Rep. Frazier has authored House File 3489, which intends to clear up some of that confusion. 

“In 2023, a law passed that people believe banned SROs from using what’s called prone restraint methods when they’re engaging with students. What it did was put specific parameters around when they could use particular holds on students,” said Fraizer.

The confusion led to Attorney General Keith Ellison coming out to clear the situation after SRO’s started pulling out of schools out of fear of lawsuits. “The law says school employees and agents ‘may use reasonable force when it is necessary under the circumstances to restrain a student to prevent bodily harm or death to the student or to another…’ The Legislature’s use of the word ‘prevent’ means that when a professional determines a student is about to harm themselves or another, the professional may intervene.”

In an interview with The UpTake, Frazier noted, “There were two AG opinions. The second opinion essentially said that SROs are not bound by that law, SROs are bound by the training and guidance under 60906 (the statute that deals with reasonable force for peace officers). So what this bill does is It codifies that opinion by the AG, but it goes further, because it provides a bright line as to when SRO’s can engage our students, which is a big deal.”

The legislation includes the development of a model policy which can be used by various parties in managing the use of prone restraints by SROs.

When discussing the larger role of SRO’s, and specifically why the Minnesota Youth Council is involved, Luka Jacobi-Krohn, a co-chair on the Juvenile Justice Committee said that the diversity in opinion on the committee helped with getting diverse perspectives. The Minnesota Youth Council is a group of youth delegates that gather to advise Minnesota leadership on youth perspective with regards to  juvenile justice.

“Only speaking from my committee specifically, it’s nice because I don’t want to say it’s an even split (with regards to opinion on SRO’s), but it sorta is. We have a couple of folks, including myself, that have experiences with SRO’s in our schools where they’ve played an instrumental role,” said Jacobi-Krohn. “And the other half haven’t. I think it’s kind of interesting, because it fosters a new sense of dialogue between folks that have had an experience with SRO’s and folks that haven’t.”

According to Rep. Frazier, the Minnesota Youth Council has been deeply involved in the SRO legislative discussions this year.

“We’ve named the Youth Council as an organization that has to be consulted as a part of the model policy making process for SRO’s,” said Fraizer. ”They will be at the table when drafting the model policy on how SRO’s will be engaged with the students and what their engagement will be like in the school setting.” 

The Minnesota Youth Council serves as a type of liaison between the Minnesota government and Minnesota youth. It’s made up of different committees and has various roles for youth to take up, making it applicable to various efforts that involve youth. When asked to describe what the model policy making entails and the Youth Councils role in discussions pertaining to the model policy, Jacobi-Krohn said that it’s a collaborative effort amongst groups to establish norms for the policy, and braintrust certain aspects of it.

“The model policy is essentially getting a group of people together, that’s representative of folks from police officers, and from the public in general. The specific bill talks about how the model policy would address how police are addressed in schools,” said Jacobi-Krohn. 

Mira Berndt, a part of the Youth Network at the Legal Rights Center, said that meetings with legislators have been one primary avenue for youth involvement in the legislative process. 

Either through being brought into the process or having a connection to SRO’s youth were allowed to testify at committee hearings about the legislation. Youth voices involved during the process have had trouble however. Mira Berndt, a part of the Youth Network at the Legal Rights Center, when asked about her personal experiences with advocating around SRO’s said that she did not feel heard during the process, specifically whilst testifying. 

“As I’ve been here with the network specifically, we have met with Senator and also Representative Frazier concerning the legislation that’s going through this session about SRO’s,” Berndt said. “Not pertaining as to whether they should be in schools or not, but just their rights when it comes to holds in schools.” 

Berndt went on to say that to her, and others, it felt like the perspectives of young people were not always considered, even after they spoke up in committee.

“I feel when we were testifying, me and my peers had a lot of good things to say. But when you would hear a lot of representatives discussing the bill, none of that was brought up, there were still representatives discounting,” said Berndt. 

As youth involvement in the SRO’s process continues Jacobi-Krohn said that youth voice is important and should continue to be consulted, due to the long term consequences of not involving them. 

“Honestly there’s so many bills that have passed specifically for education where students don’t really have an input. And then a couple of years down the line when issues arise then it’s ‘maybe we should have consulted students way back when’, when that should have been the priority in the first place.” 

“Youth input, including the Minnesota Youth Council, I think is really important because at the end of the day, students are going to be the folks that have the best experience with SRO’s and are going to be the most important to consult.”

HF 3489, and its companion in legislation in the Senate, passed out of the House on March 14th and was signed by the Governor Tim Walz.

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