The writer, of North Platte, is state senator for District 42 in the Nebraska Legislature. He is chairman of the Education Committee.
When parents drop off their children at the front doors of a public school, they are entrusting the custodial care of a vulnerable member of their family to our public school employees. We all expect that our children’s physical safety is their top priority. We want school employees to be assured that they can intervene to protect our children from doing harm to themselves or others and also be able to protect themselves. With those expectations should come freedom from fear of liability or loss of employment if they do so in a safe and reasonable manner.
In America, parents have traditionally expected that if their child or other students misbehave, the teacher has the authority to control the learning environment by temporarily removing a student from the classroom.
Parents understand that their child or other children may have special needs. No one disagrees that before the early 1990s and the enactment of federal laws to protect these children, they were treated unfairly in school discipline policies. These children now have Individualized Education Programs that include a process on how the student’s behavior is handled when or if they disrupt the class. Those plans must take precedence over any school policy on removing a disruptive student from the classroom.
To address these concerns, members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee have sought input from classroom educators, administrators and school board organizations, as well as advocates for children with special needs. The result is Legislative Bill 147 as amended by AM 1803. Not all interested parties are happy with the final result, but those organizations to whom we entrust the care of children — administrators, teachers and school boards — are in full support.
AM 1803 defines what Nebraskans expect all of our school employees to do at that moment in time when violence is happening. It further defines the authority we give our teachers to manage the learning environment in their classrooms, while fully protecting the rights of children with disabilities. The legislation we are proposing is a common-sense approach to classroom behavioral issues.
The legislation clearly states that school personnel may use reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student when protecting the student, other students, school personnel or any other person from physical injury. They can physically intervene to secure property if the possession of such property poses a threat of harm to the student or others.
The legislation clarifies that physical intervention cannot be used to inflict bodily pain as penalty for disapproved behavior, and it requires parental notification when physical intervention was used to control their child’s behavior.
It assures all school employees and school districts that when they act reasonably to protect others, they will not be in danger of unwarranted legal or job-threatening repercussions.
It requires school districts to have a policy on how and when a student can be removed from a classroom, including the mandate that students be returned to an orderly classroom learning environment as soon as possible. The policy must be proactive, instructive and restorative, and involve communication among administrators, teachers, students and parents.
This bill is a needed first step to fixing a festering problem that is holding back maximum educational opportunities for all children who attend our public schools, but more is needed. To further improve the learning environment in our classrooms, there will be related legislation introduced this session proposing behavioral awareness, physical intervention and de-escalation training that shall be given to all school employees. There will also be proposed legislation on how the state will aid local school districts in paying for the training.
The goals are safety first, maximizing learning time in the classroom and teaching children the expected behavioral boundaries of a civilized society that will follow them into the workforce and their private lives. Simply put, we need to make sure “teachers can teach.”