JOHNSTON, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Education is hosting meetings across the state over the next week, seeking public opinion about proposed changes to rules governing seclusion rooms and restraints in schools.
A group of about 50 educators, parents and advocates attended the first meeting Wednesday in Johnston, focusing on three key changes to the rules. The changes would include the size of seclusion rooms, a timelines process for getting parents notified and what would constitute sending a student to a seclusion room.
Seclusion rooms are not very common, but are used when educators believe a student poses a threat to him or herself, the teacher or classmates.
The attendees broke into smaller groups to discuss on each proposed idea.
Amber Ferriss, whose son has multiple disabilities, said she understands both perspectives and that it is a difficult problem to address. She said her son is unable to control his anger during a behavioral outburst.
"One time my son was so stressed because of personal things he was going through that he he threw a chair at a teacher he loved," Ferriss said. "He still loves that teacher. Why did he do that? It was heat of the moment."
The education department is also seeking to spell out more clearly when the rooms are used, restricting them to more serious outbursts. However, many agreed that it is difficult to clarify that, as each situation is different.
Ferriss said she also understands the perspective of teachers doing whatever they can to quickly de-escalate that situation, and they often have to make difficult choices in that process.
"We have administrators and we have these teachers that are really trying to do their job but they didn’t go to school to be a police officers, they went to school to teach kids," she said.
The State Board of Education rejected a proposal in August because members wanted more public input.
The department said it will take into consideration all comments from the meeting and revise their plans based on the results; it plans to present it to the board in November.
To read the proposed changes click here. Here is the rest of the schedule of the department's public meetings:
- Thursday, September 26: Grant Wood Area Education Agency – Cedar Rapids
- Tuesday, October 1: Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency - Pocahontas
- Wednesday, October 2: Central Rivers Area Education Agency – Cedar Falls
- Thursday, October 3: Ottumwa Community School District