Fight at Mankato East prompts police response

Sep. 8—MANKATO — A fight between students Friday morning at Mankato East High School prompted about a half-hour lockdown and police response.

Mankato Area Schools Supt. Paul Peterson said he knew of no significant injuries sustained in the incident, and the school will follow its disciplinary process for the students involved in the fight.

The incident illustrates the value of and need for school resource officers, or SROs, in Mankato schools, he said.

SROs weren't on school campuses this week while the Mankato Department of Public Safety and the school district sought clarity related to a law change on certain physical restraints on students. Law enforcement agencies have done the same at other Minnesota schools in response to the change.

The police agencies say they are worried they might be liable for using restraints on students that were no longer allowed by law in use of force situations. State leaders including Gov. Tim Walz say they are working on clarifying the new law and Attorney General Keith Ellison has issued advice as well.

"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."

SROs are trained to help deescalate and resolve situations, he added. When on site, they'd be the ones to assess the situation and call in backup if needed rather than staff having to relay information to responding officers.

East and West high schools each had one SRO mainly assigned to them last school year. The district notified parents that SROs would be on call to start the school year, Peterson said.

"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."

The law change specifically bars SROs from using prone restraints on students and any 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

—Results in straddling a pupil's torso

In response to a request for clarification in August, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison stated reasonable force may still be used to restrain a student "to prevent bodily harm or death to the student or another." Reasonable force, he added, is determined on a case-by-case basis.

The incident at East occurred around 10:30 a.m. and school operations resumed around 10:55 a.m., said Melanie Helling, communications coordinator at the school. A picnic and student organization fair took place as planned afterward, with some police staying on site to meet with students.

Principal Akram Osman thanked students and staff for their patience and response to the situation in a public address in the afternoon.

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