Authorized restraint, removal of students debated

Lawmakers debated a bill on general file July 21 that would authorize teachers to physically prevent a student from harming others.

Sen. Mike Groene
Sen. Mike Groene

Under LB147, as introduced last session by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, teachers and administrators could “use the necessary physical contact or physical restraint” to control a student who becomes physically violent and to protect school property from destructive students.

The bill also would allow a teacher to have a disruptive student removed from the classroom under certain circumstances.

Groene introduced an amendment on general file that would replace the bill. He said the amended proposal is meant to address concerns that teachers, administrators, advocates for students with disabilities and other senators had with the original bill.

Groene said legislation is needed to clarify what administrative and legal protections are available to school employees when they act to stop a student’s harmful behavior in the classroom.

“When LB147 becomes law, teachers, students, parents and administrators will be given [a] much-needed tool to assure that time spent in the classroom is used to maximize educational opportunity with minimal disruptions,” he said.

The amendment would modify the state Student Discipline Act and authorize teachers and other school personnel to “use reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student” to protect the student or another person from physical injury or to secure property in the student’s possession if it poses a threat of physical injury to the student or another person.

It also would require a teacher or other school personnel to notify the parent or guardian of a student if physical intervention is used and prohibit the use of physical intervention to inflict bodily pain as a penalty for disapproved behavior.

Unless prohibited by federal law, Groene’s amendment also would require a school administrator or their designee to remove a student from a class upon at the request of a teacher or other school personnel if they have followed school policy in requesting the removal.

Additionally, the amendment would require each school district to have a policy describing a process for removing a student from a class and then returning the student to a class.

Like the original bill, the amendment would protect teachers and other school personnel from professional or administrative discipline for using physical intervention or removing a student from a class as long as those actions were reasonable and in accordance with school policy.

The proposal includes amended provisions of LB998, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil. They would require each school district to offer annual behavioral awareness and intervention training to teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school nurses and counselors beginning with the 2021-22 school year.

Murman supported the amendment, saying that schools should be a place where students can focus on learning.

“If children are endangering the safety of themselves, others or the teacher, that is a threat to what schools should be about,” he said, “and the teacher should be able to intervene with a minimal risk to their license to teach.”

Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston also supported the amendment. She read a letter of support from the Nebraska State Education Association, the state teacher’s union, which said the proposal would provide a safe and productive learning environment for teachers and students.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne opposed the bill and filed a motion to indefinitely postpone it. He objected to a provision in Groene’s amendment that would not require school employees to complete behavioral awareness and intervention training before receiving any protections and defenses found in the Student Discipline Act.

“When governments across the country are looking to figure out ways to reduce qualified immunity, we are going to endorse it and give it to untrained people,” Wayne said.

He also said it is logical to assume, in light of data on the disproportionate use of suspension against black, Latino and other students of color in Nebraska schools, that physical intervention also would be used disproportionately against students of color.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said Groene’s amendment would not offer strong enough protections for students with disabilities. She said a competing amendment would limit the types of physical restraint that could be used against a student, among other protections.

Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas also opposed the amendment. The Legislature should do more to address disruptive student behavior, he said, but the proposal would not address underlying causes of that behavior.

“How does providing some level of immunity to teachers from discipline solve the problem of student behavior in our classrooms?” Vargas said.

After three hours of debate, the Legislature recessed before voting on pending motions, the amendment or the bill. Per a practice implemented by Speaker Jim Scheer, the sponsor of a bill that is facing a potential filibuster must demonstrate sufficient support for a cloture motion before the measure will be scheduled for additional debate.

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