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New seclusion, restraint rules approved for Iowa schools

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 10:54 AM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - In response to concerns of overuse and abuse, the Iowa State Board of Education unanimously approved new rules for when and how schools can restrain or seclude students.

Iowa is one of a few states that allow school staff to physically restrain students or place them in a seclusion room during a violent outburst to protect the student, classmates and staff.

Investigations found districts misusing or abusing restraint and seclusion rooms. In some cases, districts overused the practice or used it as a form of punishment. An i9 Investigation also found the state lacked standard rules and oversights for school seclusion rooms and practices. It also found that districts often underreported their use.

The new rules, which take effect in January 2021, specify that students must be a risk to cause “bodily injury” in order to be placed in restraint or seclusion as opposed to “serious injury", arguing the former is less subjective.

The rules also set standards for the size of seclusion rooms and give districts up to 5 years to get those rooms in compliance.

There is also a requirement to notify parents on seclusion or restraint incidents by the end of the day or as soon as practical, whichever comes first. Staff must also receive training before they are allowed to utilize seclusion or restraint practices on a student.

The State Board of Education previously voted down an earlier version of rules after superintendents complained they created too many rules and were not practical. Those rules included more strict limits on the size and standards for seclusion room and a requirement that districts notify parents within 10 minutes of a restraint or seclusion incident.

The Urban Education Network, which represents Iowa’s 8 largest school districts, had opposed the first version of the rule changes but voiced support this time. The group said the approved version is not perfect but praised the process and asked for more guidance, training and support for districts to meet the new guidelines.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa also praised the updated rules and oversight, arguing that the current practice disproportionately impacts students who are minorities, LGBTQ or have disabilities.

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