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Progressive Democrats a hard ‘no’ on calling a special session for restraint ban

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Progressive Democrats a hard ‘no’ on calling a special session for restraint ban

Sep 07, 2023 | 5:41 pm ET
By Michelle Griffith
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Progressive Democrats a hard ‘no’ on calling a special session for restraint ban
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EdAllies Executive Director Josh Crosson, surrounded by community advocates, urged Gov. Tim Walz to refrain from calling a special session during a Capitol press conference on Sept. 7, 2023. Photo by Michelle Griffith.

A bloc of progressive, mostly Twin Cities House and Senate DFL members are opposed to a special legislative session to change a new law that bans using certain restraints on students. 

The law says district employees, including police known as school resource officers, can’t use prone restraints on students — meaning place them in a face-down position — and they can’t use restraints that inhibit a student’s ability to breathe or voice distress. However, they may use these kinds of restraints “to prevent imminent bodily harm or death to the student or to another.” 

Numerous law enforcement agencies over the past few weeks pulled officers from their local schools because they say it has opened them up to potential lawsuits if they use any amount of physical force in certain situations. Republicans last week advocated for Gov. Tim Walz to call a special session and drafted a bill that would get rid of the physical restraint ban.

On Thursday afternoon, MPR News reporter Brian Bakst tweeted a leaked draft statement from 44 DFL members — 34 from the House and 10 senators — saying they do not support changing the law.

“Anyone advocating for the repeal of this law is working to take us backwards. We do not support a special session to repeal this law,” the statement says. “Repealing this law would make our schools less safe and remove critical measures that are necessary to protect students in their learning environment.”

The House DFL majority has 69 members, and the Senate 34, which means the statement of opposition was signed by a minority of DFL members. Still, their opposition suggests division in the party that has been largely unified this year.  

For their part, House leadership seemed unaware of the statement’s provenance. The Reformer asked House DFL Communications Director Matt Roznowski for a copy of the statement, but he said he didn’t have one.

“​To be honest I don’t know who sent that statement out. I wasn’t involved,” Roznowski said. Senate DFL Communications Director Marc Kimball did not immediately respond to a request for the statement.

Earlier on Thursday, the Reformer reported in its daily newsletter that a progressive bloc is against a special session, with one DFL source calling the entire issue a “ruse.”

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, on Thursday hammered the Democrats.

“With dozens of school districts currently without SRO coverage across Minnesota, it’s incredibly urgent that we fix this problem, get SROs back in schools, and keep our students safe. It’s disappointing to see so many Democrats opposed to a special session and continuing their irresponsible anti-law enforcement rhetoric,” Demuth said in a statement.

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said in a statement the teachers union supports a special session if lawmakers decide it’s necessary.

“School administrators have a clear responsibility to provide a safe environment for our students to learn and our staff to work. School staff also need clear guidance from their administrators and the state of Minnesota about when and how they can intervene to protect themselves and students in situations that pose a risk of bodily injury,” Specht said. “If state leaders decide that a special session or any other means of providing clarity for our school districts is needed, we support them in doing so.” 

The education advocacy group EdAllies on Thursday held a press conference at the Capitol to highlight their support for the law, urging Walz to refrain from calling a special session.

Multiple speakers at the press conference argued that the new law keeps students safe.

“Do not restrain our children unless absolutely necessary. We must hold ourselves to the highest standard here in Minnesota, and that includes our safety measures around our children,” said EdAllies executive director Josh Crosson.