LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Conservative lawmakers in Nebraska are pushing for a bill that would allow teachers to use physical force to restrain disruptive students, bucking a national trend toward less physical restraint in classrooms.
Supporters defeated an attempt to kill the bill Monday, but they don’t appear to have the 33 votes required to overcome a filibuster.
Many states have passed laws in recent years moving away from the use of physical restraint, according to a December 2016 analysis from Jessica Butler, congressional affairs coordinator for the Autism National Committee. Nineteen states now have laws protecting all children from physical restraint except in cases of an emergency threatening physical danger and 22 have such laws for children with disabilities, up from three and five in 2009.
The U.S. Department of Education under then-Secretary Arne Duncan called on schools in 2012 to do everything they can to avoid physical restraint.
Nebraska’s bill would allow “necessary physical force or physical restraint” if students are violent and “physical restraint” if students destroy school property, but it does not define physical force or restraint. It would not change Nebraska’s ban on corporal punishment, which fifteen primarily southern states still expressly permit.
Sen. Mike Groene, the bill’s sponsor, said it’s a common-sense law that could have prevented a 2014 incident in his hometown of North Platte in which a longtime elementary school teacher and coach grabbed an 8-year-old boy’s foot and dragged him about 90 feet to a timeout room, causing rug burns on the child’s back. The North Platte Public Schools Board renewed the teacher’s contract the following summer.
Groene’s bill would prohibit administrative discipline or legal action against teachers who restrain students.
“This isn’t corporal punishment,” he said. “This isn’t mental health. This is addressing a moment in time when violence occurs.”
Nebraska’s Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that teachers could use physical contact short of corporal punishment to preserve order. An amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln and supported by many of the bill’s opponents would replace Groene’s bill with a single sentence drawn from the court’s decision.
Sen. Lynne Walz, a former teacher from Fremont, said the bill likely would impact children who have behavior problems related to bullying, poverty, hunger or difficulty with standardized tests.
“The very last thing that needs to happen to this child is an altercation between him and his teacher that escalates because we encourage teachers to restrain the student,” she said.
The bill also would prevent a student removed from a classroom from returning without the teacher’s consent, unless the student has an Individualized Education Program requiring he or she return to class. Opponents said this could interrupt the education of students in small, rural schools, where a grade level or subject may have just one teacher.
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