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Board Revisiting Rules For Seclusion Rooms In Iowa Schools

Brett Levin

The State Board of Education is reconsidering changes to the way schools use seclusion rooms to isolate students acting in a threatening way. The latest revisions come after several meetings were held across the state taking additional input on how to limit the use of the small rooms while allowing teachers discretion in managing their classrooms.

The Department of Education has been working on reforms since 2017 when the ACLU of Iowa and disability advocates petitioned to allow seclusion and restraint only as a last resort. They claim seclusion rooms have been misused to punish students and that minority and disabled students are removed from class at disproportionately higher rates than their peers.

The effort has met some pushback from educators. The previous proposal stated that students could only be removed from the classroom when they threaten “serious injury" to others. Many teachers and school officials resisted using that term because they said it would be too difficult to judge in the moment.

The new proposal limits seclusion to preventing what it calls an “imminent threat of bodily injury.”

While the earlier version required schools to contact parents within 10 minutes from the start of an incident that leads to seclusion, the new version allows notification within an hour after the situation has been resolved.

The room itself must be at least 54 square feet in size — smaller than 70 square feet in the initial proposal. Schools would also have more time, up to 5 years, to comply with the size requirements.

The Board of Education is taking comment and will hold a public hearing on the rule changes on January 7 in Des Moines.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa