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Morning Brief - Sept. 21, 2023: Ellison issues clarifying legal opinion on school disciplinary law

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Plus more on a contract cancellation affecting mental health treatment in Itasca County, a Brainerd School District decision on a challenged book and a Superior National Forest project seeking to improve oak wilt treatment.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is hoping school districts and law enforcement agencies in the state have more clarity when it comes to a new law governing school discipline.

Ellison issued a supplemental legal opinion outlining the intent of the law, which sought to limit the use of prone restraints on students in disciplinary situations.

In the legal opinion, Ellison said school employees and school resource officers may use force to prevent bodily harm or death, but the force must be reasonable in those situations.

They also may make physical contact to address nonviolent behavior, as long as they avoid the restraints outlined in the new law, including chokeholds or other holds restricting breathing or communication.

Ellison said while the supplemental opinion does not draw new conclusions compared to the original, he noted good faith questions from law enforcement and school officials prompted him to issue the clarifying follow-up.

The school districts of Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Virginia and others in the region saw school resource officer contracts canceled while officials grappled with conflicting interpretations of the law.

Some argued the law was too restrictive and exposed districts and police departments to liability issues.

Book challenge in Brainerd

A fantasy novel challenged by a community member in the Brainerd School District will remain in the high school library.

TheBrainerd Dispatchreported a committee established for the purpose of reviewing the Sarah J. Maas novelEmpire of Stormsunanimously agreed the book should remain as choice reading material available to high school students.

The sign appears as a cross section of a tree trunk with the bark attached. An evergreen and a leafy tree are shown next to the white water tower surrounding the words "Welcome to Brainerd Est. 1871."
Lorie Shaull
Special to KAXE
A sign featuring the city's iconic historic water tower welcomes visitors to Brainerd, Minnesota.

The challenge raised concerns about sexual content in the book, which is the fifth in a series. Committee members were tasked with reading the book and walking through a series of questions about its value as a resource for students. Children's Book Review, the book publisher Bloomsbury and Common Sense Media all rated the book for ages 14 and up.

As part of the examination, district officials shared that the book has been checked out just three times in its history in the high school library.

The committee decided to apply its ruling to all of the books in Maas' "Throne of Glass" series, some of which are facing separate complaints.

Challenger Shirley Yeager has a right to appeal the committee's decision to the full school board. She told the Dispatch she doesn't know whether she'll appeal this decision, but said she intends to fight the recommendation about the rest of the series.

Read the fullBrainerd Dispatchstory for more.

Stay up to date on what's happening up north with KAXE/KBXE News, bringing you the top stories across Northern Minnesota. KAXE/KBXE is the oldest rural community radio station in the U.S. and an independent NPR affiliate.

IM Care-Lakeview contract woes

Terry Snyder sits behind a desk with his nameplate in the county board room, with a Minnesota state flag in the background.
ICTV YouTube
Itasca County Commissioner Terry Snyder speaks during a summary of an Itasca County Board meeting aired as a segment on ICTV public access channel in Grand Rapids.

As the contract termination between Itasca County's public health insurance provider and Lakeview Behavioral Health will be effective at the end of this year, about 700 IM Care patients at Lakeview Behavioral will be affected.

Lakeview Behavioral Health issued a call-to-action regarding this contract termination decision by IM-Care, Itasca County's agency that handles insurance coverage for those who qualify for Medical Assistance or Minnesota Care.

In an interview with KAXE/KBXE, Itasca County Commissioner Terry Snyder said the contract termination is a legal issue, being contemplated by attorneys on both sides of the arrangement.

IM Care Director Sarah Anderson wrote in an email that the agency has a plan in place to make sure all enrollees have continuity of care with other providers, and enrollees are encouraged to contact IM Care Member Services for assistance.

Snyder acknowledged disparities in access to mental health care in Northern Minnesota and said the county is continuing to work toward improving that access.

Lakeview Behavioral Health offers out-patient mental health and substance abuse disorder services in their offices in Grand Rapids, Hibbing and Brainerd. Lakeview also operates Reflections Recovery Residences, an in-patient type of facility that promotes recovery with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

KAXE/KBXE News is following this story and will continue to provide updates.

Oak wilt treatment research

Counties including those in eastern Minnesota are outlined in red to indicate the presence of infection.
U.S. Forest Service
A map depicts the counties in which oak wilt disease is confirmed in the eastern region of the U.S. Forest Service as of 2022.

Trained tree climbers in the Superior National Forest are testing a new technique to improve forest health against oak wilt disease, one of the deadliest diseases to red oaks in the Eastern U.S.

Oak wilt can spread in two ways: above the ground through the movement of fungal spores by sap-feeding beetles to wounds in oak trees, or below ground through the grafted roots of neighboring oaks.

Treatments for oak wilt disease are often costly and damaging. They involve cutting and removing trees with the disease, including many nearby uninfected trees and disrupting the root systems using heavy equipment.

A close-up of forest fuels specialist Brian Stearns using a syringe to inject an oak wilt-infused solution in June 2023 into a test oak tree high up in the crown in the forests outside Traverse City, Michigan.
USDA Forest Service
A close-up of forest fuels specialist Brian Stearns using a syringe to inject an oak wilt-infused solution in June 2023 into a test oak tree high up in the crown in the forests outside Traverse City, Michigan.

To test the oak wilt rapid response treatment, researchers need to infect oaks with the disease. To accomplish this, climbers drill into the branch and add the fungal disease to mimic a natural infection.

Following artificial infection, forest health managers girdle the trees at predetermined times to prevent the oak wilt infection from advancing down from the crown into the roots and spreading throughout the root systems to other trees.

Girdling is when bark and some wood materials are removed from a ring around the tree’s trunk.

It has been shown in recent testing to be an effective means in stopping the spread of oak wilt into the tree’s roots and protecting other trees in that area.

The project includes several state and federal partners and is in effect in Michigan's Huron-Manistee National Forest and Wisconsin's Octonto River Seed Orchard as well.

The group will conduct one more summer of treatment, then monitor the select trees for five years for effectiveness.

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Chelsey Perkins spent the first 15 years of her journalism career as a print journalist, primarily as a newspaper reporter and editor. In February 2023, she accepted a role as News Director of KAXE in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where she's building a new local newsroom at the station.
Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.
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