SRO debate: What do students think?

Concern over vague new rules from the legislature regarding use of force by school personnel, including school resource officers (SROs), has numerous local law enforcement agencies ending their SRO programs until the law is updated.

DFL allies and lawmakers are using the current debate over the new restraint rules to question whether police officers should be in schools in the first place, claiming that they don’t help students feel safer or improve school safety.

But what do students think?

More than 90 percent of students agree “it is a good idea to have an SRO or police officer at our school,” according to results from the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey that is administered every three years. (These findings are consistent with responses from the 2019 survey.)

Eighth, 9th and 11th graders who stated that their school had a police officer or SRO were asked whether or not they agree with the statements below regarding the presence of said officer:

  1. “I think it is a good idea to have an SRO or police officer at our school” — 94 percent of polled 8th graders agree/strongly agree, 94 percent of 9th graders, and 91 percent of 11th graders.
  2. “If I knew about something unsafe or illegal at my school, I would tell the SRO or police officer” — 77 percent of polled 8th graders agree/strongly agree, 71 percent of 9th graders, and 64 percent of 11th graders.
  3. “I would feel comfortable going to my school’s police officer or SRO if I was having problems or needed help” — 63 percent of polled 8th graders agree/strongly agree, 61 percent of 9th graders, and 59 percent of 11th graders.
Source: Minnesota Department of Education

Most reports on the topic of officers in schools rely primarily on polling and surveys, as no state agency specifically evaluates SROs or collects data regularly on SROs, according to Minnesota House Research staff. (You can read what is known about teachers’ perspectives here, and the importance of including their voices in this debate — which have largely been missing.)

Gov. Tim Walz is currently out of the country for a trade mission to Japan, and, as of now, he doesn’t plan to call a special legislative session to rewrite and/or clarify the new restraint rules.

But the issue is clearly not resolved, as the latest headlines include more examples of police departments ending their contracts with schools. And headlines are also illustrating the need for school resource officers in certain schools — a recent fight at Mankato East High School that resulted in a brief lockdown required police to be called in because the SRO was removed due to the rule changes.

You can fill out this form here to encourage Gov. Walz to call a special session, and watch this informative webinar to better understand what wording changes were made, why there is concern, and why police department chiefs have decided to either pull their SROs or keep them in schools.

Photo credit: Urban Institute