State board delays action on seclusion room restrictions

CLINTON – The Iowa State Board of Education delayed final action this month on new rules that would limit the use of seclusion rooms in public schools.

The state board rejected the proposed changes in a section of the Iowa Code that governs how schools restrain and seclude students, hoping for more feedback this fall.

"We have one at the elementary building," Camanche School District Superintendent Tom Parker said last week. "We don't call them seclusion rooms.

"We have a safe room," said Camanche Elementary School Principal Aimee Dohse. "We follow the IEPs. The only time that we would really use a safe room is to keep a student safe," sometimes from self-harm and sometimes from harming other students.

"In essence, when we use procedures to deal with behavior issues... a lot of the procedures are laid out in their [individualized] education plans, and we follow that plan," Parker said.

IEPs are written by a staffing team, Parker said. "Key members of that would be the parent or parents." A building administrator and the student's special education teacher help formulate the plan, and a school counselor and other experts may be involved.

The decision to place a child in a safe room is made by the educators who work with the students, Dohse said, "and then, I'm always made aware."

Parents are contacted within the school day about the incident, Dohse said. "We try to contact the parent immediately."

Clinton schools wouldn't have to change procedures even if new rules are put in place, said Clinton School District Superintendent Gary DeLacy. "We would meet the guidelines of what even their proposals were.: The rooms are specific to the district's elementary schools, DeLacy said. "It's not so much disciplinary as it is a safety [measure]."

Seclusion rooms came under scrutiny after the state Department of Education determined in 2017 that the Iowa City Community School District improperly used the rooms for minor infractions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Disability Rights Iowa helped draft proposed rule changes, citing concerns that districts have used the rooms too frequently, particularly with students with disabilities and black students, according to the Associated Press.

Seclusion and restraint are two techniques to be used as a last resort to control the behavior of students, only when other reasonable techniques have been unsuccessfully attempted, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

Under Chapter 103 of the Department's administrative rules, "seclusion involves the involuntary removal of a student to a room or other place from which the student’s ability to leave is restricted. Seclusion is designed to provide the student an opportunity to calm down and to resolve issues of safety.

"The size of the space where the student is confined must be of reasonable dimensions, free from hazards, and with sufficient lighting and adequate ventilation. The time a student spends in seclusion must be reasonable considering the student’s age," the Department of Education says.

A native of Centerville, Winona comes to the Clinton Herald after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.