Iowa lawmakers are weighing the ways educators should respond when student behavior threatens themselves, classmates or teachers.

Two bills making their way through the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives aim to create guidance for educators when they deal with such behavior.

The proposals also seek to limit situations in which all students are cleared from classrooms due to behavioral disruptions, create incentives for districts to establish “therapeutic classrooms” and give educators some added protections to remove students causing significant disruptions.

“We just need to find some regulation and guidance, and then maybe we need to get protections for teachers dealing with these violent students,” said Iowa Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville.

A version of the bill went before the Senate Education Committee recently, while a companion bill in the House was discussed in a subcommittee.

Starting a conversation

Under the proposal, the Iowa Department of Education would develop guidelines for educators.

It would forbid educators from including a “classroom clear” — a process through which all other students leave a classroom while staffers try to de-escalate a child’s behavior — in special education students’ individualized education programs.

The bills also include provisions allowing for additional situations in which educators are allowed to use “reasonable and necessary” physical contact to relocate students causing severe disturbances. Districts also would be allowed to apply for grants to establish “therapeutic classrooms.”

The proposal focuses on making classrooms safe and productive environments, Koelker said, noting that educators said they are concerned about the level of violent student behavior they are seeing.

The bill would provide help to students with serious behavior problems while making sure other students don’t lose out on their education, Koelker said.

“We’ve got to somehow look for a fix and deal with the problem,” she said.

Iowa Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said the bill is “a work in progress.” However, she said she has heard from teachers and parents about challenging behaviors that educators face in the classroom.

“Our teachers need more resources to help our kids in crisis ... move through those situations, so it gets them back to a good place, and it also allows for the other kids in the classroom (to get back to learning),” she said.

Serving students

Rick Colpitts, superintendent of the Western Dubuque Community School District, said that the use of classroom clears is infrequent and that he had not seen them included in student IEPs.

However, schools need to find better ways to handle those situations when they do arise, he said.

Room clears can have a negative impact on the students who are forced to leave. But physically removing a student who is acting out can potentially be traumatic for that student, Colpitts said.

“Hopefully, if we can get the right people around the table, we can come up with some better solutions than what we have right now,” he said.

Brenda Duvel, executive director of special education for Dubuque Community Schools, said she appreciates that legislators are trying to make sure schools can best serve students.

However, she said she wants to see lawmakers think about changing situations in which students can be physically removed from classrooms, because those students might have trauma in their past.

Duvel said she is not aware of students with IEPs that include provisions for a room clear. Generally, students only are cleared from their classrooms when there is a safety issue, which does not happen often.

“I do believe that even with this legislation, there may be most certainly times where the safest thing for all involved are to do a classroom clear,” she said. “But it certainly should not be a strategy that’s happening consistently in an individual student plan.”