Student safety is paramount both inside and outside the school building. Use this information to guide how you address safety.
- Restricted uses of school forest Lands
Your School Forest Committee should identify what uses are appropriate in your school forest. You can keep it open to all recreation or restrict to specified uses. For example, some schools allow hiking, but not hunting or motorized vehicles. The committee should consult the school board or superintendent when recommending restrictions.
Who Controls the Land?
If the school district owns the land, the school district can decide how the land should be used. If the school uses land managed or owned by a city or county, check with city or county ordinances and officials.
Always visibly post restrictions in your school forest according to requirements in Minnesota Statutes, Section 97B.001 (Subdivision 4).These statutes address laws affecting restrictions on school forest land.
- Minnesota Statutes, Section 97B.001 hunting and other outdoor recreation
- Minnesota Statutes, Section 624.7133 Personal Protection Act concerning firearms on school property
- Minnesota Statutes, Section 84.90 recreational vehicles
- Minnesota Statutes, Section 609.605 criminal law
These statures allow any school to post a site for a specified or restricted use. Familiarize yourself with the trespass laws by looking up the statutes and posting requirements at www.leg.state.mn.us with the most pertinent parts of the statutory language.
Your committee can enlist help to monitor the school forest.
Engage school resource officers who work for or in a school. The school and the officer will have to work out this arrangement. Resource officers can be asked to patrol school forest lands regularly or check the site before any classrooms visit the site.
Inform local city and county police officers about your school forest and its uses and restrictions. Local police are responsible for enforcing city and county ordinances and state laws within their jurisdiction. Contact local public safety officials to find out the best way to handle the ordinance and its enforcement. Police officers can enforce both civil no trespass laws and criminal firearms laws. Suggestions for increasing police or sheriff participation in monitoring a site:
- Ask for the school forest lands to be incorporated into patrol rounds.
- Invite officers to do paperwork in the school forest parking lot or other accessible and visible areas.
- Ask parents and neighbors to express concerns with law enforcement and school officials.
- Consider if funding is needed to monitor the site. Schools may pay the police department to cover additional police time needed to monitor and enforce ordinances. However, most schools can accomplish this without paying the police for extra time.
Enforcement is much easier when restricted uses are correctly posted. If individuals engage in restricted activities, the law enforcement officer handling the complaint can charge them with a civil or criminal trespass citation.
Any citizen can report a violation, including teachers, families, students, and neighbors. If a violation is witnessed, collect as much of the following information as possible, only if it is volunteered readily, and without taking a personal risk:
- Description of violation, including situation, date, time, and names of other witnesses.
- Name of individual(s).
- Physical description of the person, license plate number, vehicle description, and any other distinguishing information.
Report the violation to 911 or your local police, sheriff's deputy, school resource officer, DNR conservation officer, or another peace officer.
If enforcement isn’t working
If enforcement options don’t work or aren’t available, try working with the community. Ways to decrease criminal incidents at your location include:
- Make sure the site is posted correctly according to Minnesota Statutes, Section 97B.001, subdivision 4
- Talk to the School Forest Program staff for ideas on what other schools have done.
- Start an awareness campaign about restricted uses in your school forest.
- Enlist the support of parents, community members, students, teachers, and business owners by sharing what they could do if they witness someone violating a restricted use in the school forest.
- Be honest with your community about potential risks associated with restricted use.
- Remind residents that this was a decision made by the school board.
- Hunting, trapping, and firearms in school forest
While it is generally legal to hunt and trap on school forest lands, school boards may designate part or all the land as restricted or open to hunting and trapping. The school board should record decisions in the board meeting minutes. Then the school district must notify site users of the decision.
All teachers, activity leaders, volunteers, and students who use the site should be aware of the policy, especially if hunting and trapping are allowed in parts of the school forest during the season. Regardless of any allowed use, school staff must ensure student safety while learning in a school forest.
For clarification on legal definitions, consult the school district's attorney.
Guns on School Grounds
Can your site allow firearms on school property? See Minnesota Statutes, Section 609.66, subdivision 1d, deals with the possession of firearms on school property.
A quick summary of the statute is that firearms are not permitted on school property, either in buildings or on improved grounds, without the written permission of the school's principal. There is no absolute definition of improved grounds in the statute. Black's Law Dictionary, often consulted by lawmakers, defines improved land as "Real property that has been developed." The improvements may or may not enhance the value of the land. (Black's Law Dictionary, Eighth Edition, 2004, West St. Paul, Minn.) If the School Forest Committee or school board needs additional advice or definition, consult the school district's attorney for an official opinion or recommendation.
Decisions regarding hunting, trapping, and archery should be made by the School Forest Committee and the school board.
- ATVs, horses, unleashed dogs on school forest land
The school board or school forest committee may recommend restricting all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), horses, unleashed dogs, or other uses. Consult with the superintendent and local statures.
- Non-school use of school forest
Your school board, school forest committee, and/or administration may allow non-school use in your school forest, such as hiking, cross-country skiing, frisbee golf, or dog-walking. Welcoming benign uses in your school forest often expands the community’s sense of "ownership," which can reduce vandalism, encourage voter support, and even nurture future sources of volunteer labor and funding.
Remember to consider any risks associated with allowing public use of your school forest. The district may need to get additional insurance.
When allowing non-school use, make sure public users know:
- Allowed and restricted uses.
- Hours of operation.
- How rules are enforced.
Do you want to allow a cross-country ski club or other recreation group to regularly use the school forest? Address these concerns ahead of time:
- Who will be responsible for maintenance? Think of trail grooming, downed trees, garbage collection, posting signs, etc.
- Will a fee be charged? How will fees be collected?
- Who will be responsible for scheduling non-school events?
- How will conflicts with school usage be avoided?
- Is alcohol allowed during non-school events in the forest?
- Do dog walking, leashing, and cleanup requirements need to be posted?
Vandals can hit school forests in several ways—by destroying benches, spray-painting structures and leaving behind litter and campfire scars. Vandals are usually young and live near the places they vandalize. Ideally, it would be great to identify the perpetrators and have them clean up their mess. However, this usually isn't the case.
If vandalism happens, allow students to process the event and think of ways to deal with it. Overcoming negative experiences is a valuable exercise in conflict resolution skills. As your students grow older, positive experiences in your school forest now will generate thoughtful, caring citizens.
Investing in a safe and educational school forest builds pride, respect for natural areas, and feelings of ownership for your students and community.
The best way to deal with vandals is to prevent vandalism in the first place.
- Access. Is there a parking area near the forest? Is it possible to block access to parking when the school is not using it?
- Trails. How wide and curved are your trails? Some recreation experts recommend many curves that block views of other hikers to promote a positive sense of isolation in a wooded area. Narrow trails force users to slow down and pay attention but can also spread a class over a more extended area. It may be easier to manage your class on wide trails but may be tempting to drive on leaving deep ruts and invasive weeds.
- Territory. The more students and the community feel the land is "theirs," the more they will respect and protect it. Encourage people to enjoy the forest respectfully. Have students create signs and art or write stories and articles about their school forest. Nurture positive relationships among teachers, students, and the community.
Example: Anwatin-Bryn Mawr School Forest in Minneapolis posted signs about traditional Dakota uses of plants growing along the trail. The signs slow people down and remind them to respect nature.