House bill addresses violent, disruptive behavior in Iowa schools
DES MOINES — The Iowa House has sent the Senate a bill that would set a statewide policy for disciplining disruptive and violent students in public K-through-12 schools.
It would require an in-school suspension and a counseling session after the first two incidents, but a third episode of violent or disruptive behavior would require the school to consider transferring the student to another class or learning environment. The bill also sets up a process for educators to report incidents of classroom violence and destruction of school property to the State Ombudsman for investigation.
“This was not an issue that was on my radar at all when we came into session. This issue sought us out and we hear from individuals who are teaching in our public schools who are extremely concerned or they are being hit and they are being attacked,” Representative Skyler Wheeler, a Republican from Hull who’s chairman of the House Education Committee, said during House debate last week. “We cannot just stand idly by and allow that to happen.”
Wheeler said lawmakers are hearing from teachers who don’t believe disruptive behavior in the classroom is being addressed. “I’m not overly excited that we have to take a topic like this up,” Wheeler said, “but if we do not, I fear we are going to continue to see problems and we are going to potentially lose very good employees in our schools.”
Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City who’s a retired teacher, said she’d like the policies to be required in Iowa’s private schools as well, but she supports the bill. “This bill has come a long way and I appreciate the collaboration that has been done to make it an improved bill, a bill that will really help teachers,” Steckman said. “And it is an issue that I’ve heard about from a lot of teachers and I’m really pleased that we could work together to get something that I feel will work.”
Representative Sue Cahill, a Democrat from Marshalltown who’s a retired teacher, also voted for the bill. “This bill is a good starting point,” Cahill said. “I fully support having safety measures in place for teachers and that they have a recourse to maintain the safety of their own persons not only for their physical health but for their mental health as well.”
However, Cahill said she’s hoping the Senate changes it, to ensure schools have other options for kids in kindergarten and early elementary grades rather than an immediate in-school suspension after an initial fight or disruption in class.
The bill passed the House on an 89-to-six vote. If it becomes law, administrators will be required to notify parents if their children have been violent or disruptive in school. The Iowa Department of Education’s report on student violence in Iowa classrooms indicates there were nearly 2000 assaults during the last school year, causing more than 1700 injuries. The agency indicates schools reported more than 1100 incidents of property damage caused by students during the last school year.