Monday, September 15, 2008

Iowa - Board tightens rules for schools on restraint

By STACI HUPP • • September 12, 2008

Iowa's schools will be held accountable for the way they discipline the most disruptive students under tougher rules adopted Thursday by the state Board of Education.

Board members approved limits on the use of "timeout" rooms for students who are a threat to themselves or others.

The rules restrict some forms of restraint, such as holding a student facedown on the floor. Educators must get permission from school administrators to confine children in timeout rooms for longer than an hour.

School officials also must attempt to contact parents and document every time they use the discipline method.

State law allows school officials to confine children in timeout rooms, but parents and advocates for disabled Iowans complain that educators overuse it.

The Waukee school district faces two lawsuits from families who say their children were denied access to an education because they were confined regularly for long stretches.

A couple who sued the district in February alleges that their grandson was locked in timeout 64 times throughout his first-grade year, but that school officials told them about only 17 of them. Court records do not identify the family. Officials from the Waukee school district and Heartland Area Education Agency, whose employees work with disabled students, have said they don't overuse the discipline strategy.

Members of the state education board studied the proposal for about four months before Thursday's unanimous vote, which came with little discussion.

Some supporters, however, were buzzing about it.

"I think it gives parents a more level playing field," said Doug Loeffler, who claims Waukee school officials once confined his autistic daughter for more than three hours.

The changes are part of Iowa's corporal punishment law, which hasn't been tweaked since 1991.

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