The Iowa Board of Education has rescinded its current rules on student seclusion and restraint and replaced them with a more limited set of circumstances in which children can be confined at school.
The changes involve when children can be secluded, the size of the rooms they can be secluded in, and how schools should notify parents or guardians that their children were restrained.
The Board of Education’s unanimous vote Wednesday was a result of years of advocacy and three attempts in recent years to amend the state’s practices, which have sparked controversy because schools have used the rooms to hold students for a range of misbehavior and underreported how often they do.
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, all eyes are on Iowa. Get updates of all things Iowa politics delivered to your inbox.
In 2017, Iowa’s Department of Education determined the Iowa City school district violated state and federal law in its use of seclusion rooms. School officials stopped using them, focusing instead on other behavioral intervention.
In adopting the new policy, board members praised the collaboration between the Iowa Department of Education and organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Disability Rights Iowa.
Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said that many key amendments that advocates pursued are in the new rules, including “that seclusion and restraints are used only in emergency situations, are no more restrictive than necessary, are used only as a last resort, and are never used for the discipline or punishment of children.”
The rules allow educators to use seclusion and restraint when there’s a threat of “bodily injury.” Some stakeholders preferred that “serious physical” injury be the benchmark, but consensus favored the broader term, board members said.
Schools are also required to notify parents of the use of seclusion and restraint “as soon as is practical” or by the end of the school day, whichever comes first.
Additionally, the new rules mandate that seclusion rooms must be at least 56 square feet and at least 7 feet wide. Schools have five years to meet the necessary size requirements.
Still, educators and advocates agreed that there is more work to be done.
“We remain concerned about disparities in how students are disciplined in Iowa and across the country,” Stringer said during public comments. “Data show that restraint and seclusion are still disproportionately used on students with disabilities and students of color.”
According to U.S. Department of Education data from the 2017-18 school year, students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were 13% of enrolled students — but 80% of students that were physically restrained and 77% of students that were secluded.
Federal data for the same school year showed that Black students were 15% of the student population, but made up 26% of those who were physically restrained, and 22% of those who were secluded.
David Tilly, head of the department’s bureau of leading, teaching, and learning services, said Wednesday that he was proud of the result of a years-long collaboration.
“No one got everything they wanted. Everybody got much of what they wanted,” he said just before the board passed the new policy. “I think this is a good example for how quite controversial content can be processed and consensus can be reached that all parties can live with and move the ball down the field.”
More importantly, he said, the new rules will improve the lives of Iowa students, teachers, administrators and families.
“They truly do represent a major leap forward in the use of these practices and procedures for students and schools,” Tilly said.
Shelby Fleig covers Des Moines city government for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or 515-214-8933.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: ‘A major leap forward’: Iowa Board of Education votes to limit student seclusion, restraint