Public Input on Seclusion and Restraint Rooms in Iowa Schools Sought

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DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Department of Education is hosting a series of public input meetings to listen to what people think of proposed revisions to the rules regarding the use of seclusion and restraint rooms in schools.

This comes following the State Board of Education rejecting proposed revised rules back in August.

Iowa Department of Education Communications Director Staci Hupp said August was the first time since 2008 the board was asked to adopt revisions.

“Our goal is to ensure seclusion and restraint are used appropriately in schools, balancing the safety of students with a process that is reasonable for educators. This additional feedback will position the State Board of Education to adopt rules that are in the best interests of students, families, and schools,” Hupp said.

There are three main points the department wants public input on.

The first point is the size of the room. Under the revised proposal it states that a seclusion room needs to be no less than 70 square feet and the distance between opposing walls must be no less than seven feet. Schools would have two years to find a room that fits under the possible requirements.

Winterset Superintendent Susie Meade said she understands that if a student needs to be confined that the room is safe, but it can be hard finding a room that size.

“That large of a room is almost impossible for people to retrofit. If you have a room like that and it is all the way across the school, how do you get a student there safely,” Meade said.

American Civil Liberties Union Policy Director Daniel Zeno said, “I think it is really important that we have clear guidelines about what these rooms look like, not only for the safety of the kids who are in the room but also recognizing the trauma that happens to kids who are put in these rooms.”

The second point to be discussed is how fast a parent or guardian should be notified that their child is being restrained.

Currently, the rule states that a school needs to notify the parent or guardian on the same day of the incident and a written copy of documentation needs to be mailed home within three school days of the occurrence.

The proposed revision states schools need to notify a parent or guardian within the first 10 minutes of the incident and within 10 minutes after the occurrence.

Meade is opposed to the revision and said, “That’s really hard, because when you do have a very difficult situation going on it is kind of all hands on deck, and everybody is helping to try and calm the child, make sure it is a safe environment for everyone.”

Zeno agrees with the revision but would add giving a parent or guardian additional information as the student continues to stay in a seclusion room.

“We think figuring out a way to come to some kind of consensus about what that notification might look like, we are happy to be a part of that conversation but we think there should be some kind of notification in the interim to keep parents engaged and involved so that they can do whatever they can do to help their own kid,” Zeno said.

The third point being discussed is the word "serious" in the term "serious physical injury."

“Having the word serious, what it does is exactly what we ask when we ask for the rules to be changed. It limits the use of the rooms. There are some who don’t want to limit the use of the rooms. We think seclusion and restraint should be a last resort,” Zeno said.

“When you are working with a student who is highly distressed and very much out of control you need to employ a variety of strategies to ensure that you can help to get them calm and that sort of thing. To sit there and try to think 'ok if I do this is it going to be serious harm,' I mean that is very difficult for someone to do that in the heat of the moment,” Meade said.

There are six public input meetings across the state over the next two weeks. Feedback from the public will be taken in order to revise the proposals to show the state board on November 20th.

The earliest the public can see a final vote on revised proposals is early 2020.

Public input meetings are at the following locations:

  • Tuesday September 24th:
    • Green Hills Area Education Agency – Creston
    • 257 Swan Street, Creston
    • Conference Room
  • Wednesday September 25th:
    • Heartland Area Education Agency – Johnston
    • 6500 Corporate Drive, Johnston
    • Conference Room 152A, 152B and 152C
  • Thursday September 26th
    • Grant Wood Area Education Agency – Cedar Rapids
    • 4401 Sixth Street SW, Cedar Rapids
    • Winter/ Spring Room
  • Tuesday October 1st
    • Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency – Pocahontas
    • 500 NE 6th Street, Pocahontas
    • North and South Twin Lakes Conference Rooms
  • Wednesday October 2nd
    • Central Rivers Area Education Agency – Cedar Falls
    • 1521 Technology Parkway, Cedar Falls
    • Conference Room B
  • Thursday October 3rd
    • Ottumwa Community School District
    • 812 Chester Ave, Ottumwa
    • Media Center
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