The Moorhead Police Department announced Thursday that it will suspend its school resource officer program as concerns linger over a new law banning the use of some physical holds and restraints of students.

Chief Shannon Monroe said he chose to withdraw from Moorhead schools because he couldn't think of a way officers could be effective responding to illegal activity, citing examples such as students handing out cigarettes or damaging property.

"The SRO would not be able to intervene or confiscate," Monroe said. "If a person is refusing to leave, the officer could not physically restrain them."

Moorhead Area Public Schools spokesperson Brenda Richman said district officials are "frustrated that the recently passed legislation does not allow the department to continue to operate in the way that they have so effectively worked within the schools in the past."

Thursday was the first day off class in Moorhead schools, and Superintendent Brandon Lunak in a note to families said local police have assured him they'll continue to make the schools "a security and response priority even though we won't have SRO's in our school buildings."

Other Minnesota law enforcement agencies and school districts are also trying to figure out how the new law might change their SRO staffing, with the new school year fast approaching for many students.

The Anoka County Attorney's Office has advised the sheriff's office and Anoka-Hennepin School District against renewing their existing agreement, attorney's office spokesman Keith Ternes said.

"There will still be a law enforcement presence in schools," Ternes said. "It's just going to look a little different."

The Anoka County Sheriff's Office will not station deputies at Andover High School or Oak View Middle School, Anoka-Hennepin district spokesman Jim Skelly said.

Still, Skelly added: "Anoka-Hennepin Schools will continue to work collaboratively with the Anoka County Sheriff's Office and all area law enforcement partners to find solutions that address the concerns of law enforcement and continue to keep students and staff safe."

The new state statute bans educators and school resource officers from putting students in the prone position or applying pressure on their torso in a way that restricts their breathing or keeps them from signaling distress.

Police chiefs across the state say the law opens officers up to lawsuits for using standard tactics they use to break up fights. They have argued that the language of the law is too vague.

The disagreement comes as both schools and police departments across the country grapple with an uptick in disruptive behavior and violence on some campuses and communities seek criminal justice reform after George Floyd's murder.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Keith Ellison issued an opinion on the law, stating that the new statute would not prevent police and educators from using force to prevent a student from causing bodily harm or death. Still, Ellison said, that force must be "reasonable."

"Safety is essential for learning, and everyone in our schools — students, teachers, staff, administrators, SROs, and families — wants to be safe and feel safe," Ellison wrote in a statement. "The aims of the new amendments to our school-discipline laws are worthy."

Still, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association contends the law forces officers to "go against their training" in various situations, including when students are destroying property, fleeing the scene of a crime or engaging in disorderly conduct.

In a letter to members, officers association General Counsel Imran Ali and Executive Director Brian Peters wrote that the law will "limit the lawful authority of SROs to keep children safe at school and those contracted with school districts to provide safety to the students and staff."

They also wrote, "We know the vagueness and uncertainty of the law is a result of having no law enforcement stakeholders providing input into this important legislation."

Monroe, the Moorhead chief, said area schools are now missing out on an essential resource. He can recall instances in which students have reported peers considering self-harm or fights planned for after school.

"In many cases, I believe we've headed off potential danger," Monroe said. "If we're not in there maintaining and establishing trust, we're going to lose that."