Mankato East High School in Minnesota faced a half-hour lockdown Friday morning, following a huge fight on campus.
Superintendent Paul Peterson announced there were no significant injuries and assured that the students involved would be disciplined, The Free Press reported.
The incident brings into sharp focus the ongoing debate around the recent removal of school resource officers (SROs) due to a new state law limiting physical restraints on students. Police agencies across the state have withdrawn their SROs, expressing concern about potential liability under the new legislation.
“I discussed this with several attorneys who are familiar with this area of the law and they were unanimous: The law is unclear and it could result in litigation that threatens the livelihood of our school resource officers,” Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt said. “It could even subject them to criminal prosecution for trying to de-escalate a situation by restraining an out-of-control student.”
The new law specifies that SROs are restricted from using a variety of restraints on students, including any holds that impair breathing or communication, among others. This has led to a delay in the placement of SROs at several Minnesota schools, including those in Mankato, as public safety agencies await further clarification on the new legislation.
According to the new law:
(a) An employee or agent of a district, including a school resource officer, security personnel, or police officer contracted with a district, shall not use prone restraint.
(b) An employee or agent of a district, including a school resource officer, security personnel, or police officer contracted with a district, shall not inflict any form of physical holding that restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to breathe; restricts or impairs a pupil’s ability to communicate distress; places pressure or weight on a pupil’s head, throat, neck, chest, lungs, sternum, diaphragm, back, or abdomen; or results in straddling a pupil’s torso.
Superintendent Paul Peterson emphasized that the incident showcases the need for School Resource Officers (SROs).
“We are talking with our public safety partners every day about how to craft temporary plans,” Peterson said. “We all have an identical long-term plan, which is to get SROs back to school.”
He emphasized that SROs are trained to deescalate situations and directly call for backup if needed, rather than relying on school staff to do so.
“We are as a school district really hoping that our public safety partners get the clarification they’re seeking and we’re all seeking so that program can return to Mankato schools,” he said. “When it comes to keeping our schools safe, there’s no closer partner we have than with public safety.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has advised that reasonable force may still be used by SROs “to prevent bodily harm or death to the student or another,” but what constitutes ‘reasonable’ will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Governor Tim Walz (D-MN) has not indicated plans for a special legislative session to revise the law, despite calls from law enforcement agencies and some legislators.
“That’s getting enough clarity that districts are saying, ‘Sure, we’re back and we’re doing this,’” Walz said. “So I think that’s where we stand right now. And we’ll just keep working it.”
Barry Werk, the man who posted the huge fight, wrote on X, “Gov. Tim Walz Mankato has had 2 school lockdowns in the 1st 4 days of school. How are we feeling about removing the police officer presence from the High Schools? Here is what you don’t want to show. This is sad and terrible.
@GovTimWalz Mankato has had 2 school lockdowns in the 1st 4 days of school. How are we feeling about removing the police officer presence from the High Schools? Here is what you don’t want to show. This is sad and terrible pic.twitter.com/OCypiqYjX5
— Barry Werk (@KabekonaKrusher) September 9, 2023