Iowa Senate Passes Bill to Address Violent Classroom Behavior

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Senate unanimously voted to pass legislation on Tuesday that aims to help teachers across the state deal with violent behavior in their classrooms

Both Republican and Democratic senators debating the bill called this a "giant problem" in Iowa.

Republican Sen. Amy Sinclair's bill would provide more standards, guidelines and protections for teachers when students erupt in violence.

It would also limit the use of "room clears," a process used to calm a student having a violent outbreak by clearing all students from the classroom. Additionally, the legislation would create a grant program for "therapeutic classrooms," which would give an alternative setting for students who need it.

Although the bill passed unanimously, Democrats shared concerns during the debate, arguing the funding for the legislation is not enough.

Sen. Joe Bolkom, D-Iowa City, called it a "sad little bill" in reference to the $1.5 million it's allocating. Democrats failed to pass an amendment that would have allocated $3 million instead.

"I'm going to support this today, but I'm really disappointed at the decisions you guys continue to make with the resources people give us in this state to improve this state," Bolkom said.

It turned into an argument between the two sides about how and what they spend money on. Bolkom criticized the Republican's tax cuts and said it has taken away money to fund Iowa's education system. However, Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said Democrats did not accomplish education funding when they had control of the legislature.

"When you were in charge, you had the trifecta, you shorted the schools $459 million over a four year period," Zaun said. "Now since the Republicans have taken care of things, maybe it wasn't enough, but I come from the old school, you don't promise what you can't deliver."

Zaun said the bill is not perfect but called it the first big step in helping teachers. Whereas Democrats called it a "drop in the bucket."

“I think this is a far greater problem than we know and the numbers to make a dent need to be higher,” said Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, argued the best way to support teachers is the restore collective bargaining and fund the children's mental health program, which she called "a shame" that it is taking so long.

However, Sinclair said this legislation resulted from meeting and speaking with teachers and administrators from all across the state.

"This is probably the bill I've worked the hardest on in my eight years in office," she said. "Not only did I embrace the idea of stakeholders groups, but I embraced the ideas of my colleagues as well as in the House chamber."

Sinclair said she hopes this will be a multi-year process of gathering data and adjusting as needed to address the needs of teachers.

The bill will now be sent to the House chamber.

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