LINCOLN — Three years ago, veteran North Platte physical education teacher Mark Woodhead nearly lost his job over how he handled a disruptive third-grader.

He kept his position only through strong community support and a 4-2 vote by the North Platte school board.

But State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte doesn’t believe Woodhead or other teachers should be threatened with firing for trying to maintain discipline in their classrooms.

He introduced a proposal Wednesday that seeks to protect teachers and school administrators who are dealing with violent or unruly students.

“We’ve got to support the teachers so they can have control of the classroom,” Groene said. “I hear from teachers all the time now that students have no boundaries.”

Legislative Bill 595 would allow teachers or administrators to use physical force or physical restraint to subdue violent students. Teachers or administrators could use physical restraint on students who are damaging school property.

Neither action would be considered corporal punishment under the bill. Current state law prohibits corporal punishment in Nebraska schools.

In addition, the bill would bar any type of legal action or administrative discipline against teachers using physical means to deal with students.

LB 595 would make clear that teachers can remove from their classrooms students who have been repeatedly or seriously unruly, disruptive or abusive.

Under the bill, school principals could not return the student to class without the teacher’s consent.

Groene said he introduced the measure in response to the student discipline problems reported at Omaha’s Nathan Hale Magnet Middle School this year, as well as the North Platte case.

Parents and staff complained to Omaha Public Schools officials this fall about out-of-control students at Nathan Hale, where enrollment nearly doubled after sixth-grade students were added to the building this school year.

In November, teachers from across the district raised concerns to the Omaha school board about students who threaten teachers and disrupt the learning environment.

They told of teachers being stabbed in the hand with a pencil, slugged in the face and knocked down in the hallway.

Groene said he thinks school discipline has suffered because teachers are restricted in how they can deal with misbehaving students.

In the North Platte situation, Woodhead was threatened with termination over how he dealt with a third-grader who had been misbehaving in gym class, including throwing balls at the other students.

Woodhead told the boy to go to the school’s “timeout” room. The boy, who was sitting on the floor, refused to move. Woodhead grabbed his ankle and the boy started kicking.

Woodhead then grabbed both ankles and dragged the boy 93 feet down the hall, past other students, across the carpeted teachers’ lounge and into the timeout room.

Mike Dulaney, executive director of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, said he had not read the bill and couldn’t comment on its specifics.

He said he wants to talk with school attorneys and learn more about case law before taking a position.

“I think there are some challenges to teachers and administrators touching students,” Dulaney said.

But he said the bill raises an important issue that needs discussion. The state last overhauled its student discipline laws in 1994.

“I’m anxious to see who comes to the table and has something to say,” he said.

Neither the State Department of Education nor OPS offered comment on the bill.

The State Board of Education is slated to review bills on Monday, according to spokesman David Jespersen.

Monique Farmer, an OPS spokeswoman, said the school board also will meet and review legislative proposals on Monday. But she noted that school discipline matters have been a national topic of discussion.

OPS, like other urban school districts, has come under fire for suspending and expelling black students at higher rates than their white and Latino counterparts.

In 2015, state education officials sanctioned the district for suspending a disproportionately high number of black special education students in 2011 and 2012.

Two new school choice bills introduced in Legislature

LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers will have a buffet of school choice ideas to consider this year, with two new proposals introduced Wednesday.

Both proposals are aimed at allowing children in low-performing school districts to get an education outside of traditional public schools. Legislative Bill 608, introduced by State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, would create a voucher-like system.

It would allow students living in school districts with low-performing schools to get funding from those districts to pay for a private or parochial school.

The funding would be equal to 75 percent of the per-student funding in the public school district. The other 25 percent would go into a local property tax relief fund.

LB 630, introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, would allow the creation of publicly funded charter schools in school districts with low-performing schools.

The charter schools would be called independent public schools. They would operate under separate boards from the public school district and would not be subject to most state education rules and regulations.

Both bills would make the public school districts responsible for transporting students.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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