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Iowa Senate Advances Plan To Move Violent Students To Their Own Classrooms

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John Pemble/IPR file
The proposal is based on a program in Winterset's school district, where some students who threaten violence are placed with a teacher and specialists to work through aggressive behavior.

A bill advancing in the Iowa legislature (SSB 3080) would encourage schools to set aside space for students who threaten violence toward teachers and classmates.

Schools will sometimes clear out a classroom when a student has a dangerous outburst. Under the bill advanced by a Senate subcommittee Thursday, those students could be placed in “therapeutic classrooms” to address behavioral problems.

At a subcommittee hearing, Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said classrooms are increasingly threatening for teachers.

“When I talk to teachers they are afraid,” Sinclair said. “They’re afraid physically. They’re afraid for their jobs and they’re afraid of lawsuits and so we need to circle around teachers and let them know their fears are being heard and we’re trying to address those.”

The proposal is based on a program in the Winterset school district where Supt. Susie Meade said about six students are placed with a teacher and specialists trained to work through their aggressive behavior. The goal is to return the children to their regular classroom.

Dave Wilkerson of the School Administrators of Iowa said he supports the plan as a way to cut down on dangerous incidents in class.

“If you’ve never witnessed a room clear or a child that’s escalated like that, it’s hard to understand how significant and severe it is,” Wilkerson said at the bill hearing. “And the impact not only that it’s having on that child but that it’s having on the other children in the room.”

The bill proposes a $2.5 million grant program to establish therapeutic classrooms around the state. Some school advocates said that amount of funding isn’t enough to cover behavioral health challenges.

“I have members, especially in our large metropolitan districts, that have room clears three-times-a-week,” said Melissa Peterson, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association. “We need more school nurses, more school counselors, more school social workers so we don’t have to send these kids away.”

Even if money is available, hiring could be a challenge according to Margaret Buckton of the Urban Education Network, which represents the state’s largest districts.

“There is one urban district that has some rooms that they think would fit this bill and they’re having difficulty even finding applicants to staff them,” Buckton said. “And I think that goes back to the bigger picture issue of school funding.”

The bill passed in subcommittee and now goes to the full Senate Education Committee.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa