Photo by The Unicameral Update
Mike Groene listens to testimony on the bill on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Teachers could physically restrain violent students and remove unruly students from the classroom without facing legal action, under a bill proposed by Sen. Mike Groene.The bill is favored by the state teacher’s union. Advocates for disabled children are concerned about it.
LB 595 would allow teachers and administrators to use physical force in the event that a student becomes physically violent toward the teacher, or another student, themselves or an administrator, or if they are destroying school property.
Groene said there are no guidelines for containing violent and disruptive students under current state regulations, which authorize suspension or expulsion of students.
“We need to help our teachers control their classrooms,” he said.
The proposal would also allow a teacher to remove a student from class if their behavior interferes with the teacher’s ability to communicate with students or the student’s ability to learn.
A student removed from a classroom for disruptive behavior could go to another classroom, to an “in-school suspension” or into an alternative education program, the bill says. A principal could not return the student to the classroom without the teacher’s consent.
The bill prevents legal action or administrative discipline against teachers who take such steps.
Jay Sears, speaking for the Nebraska State Education Association (the teacher’s union), supported the bill.
He said the association received more than 7,000 responses to an email survey about LB 595 that it sent to members.
Eighty percent of respondents reported that discipline and behavior problems have increased.
Sixty percent said unruly and disruptive students are the biggest problem they face in the classroom.
“Our members have told us, in no uncertain terms, that they need strong support and additional resources and training to ensure safe classrooms for all students,” Sears said.
Dr. Ron Hanson
Supt. Ron Hanson of the North Platte Public Schools did not testify, but told the Bulletin that LB 595 “provides one approach to deal with disruptive behavior.”
“Any disruption to the learning environment can impact the teaching and learning occurring in a classroom and is a concern to both parents and educators,” Hanson said.
Hanson said North Platte schools are on the verge of adopting a program of “positive behavioral interventions and supports,” and plan to begin instituting them this summer.
“The whole purpose is to teach children the how to learn in a collaborative environment without disrupting the learning of others,” he said.
Karen Haase, an attorney who practices school law, opposed the bill, saying that it points to a need for mental health resources for young children, not a lack of options for dealing with violent and unruly students.
Simply removing a disruptive student from the classroom will not solve the problem, she said.
“I believe that LB 595 is bad public policy — bad for teachers, bad for schools and bad for kids,” Haase said.
Lynn Redding, a person with a disability who has had restraints applied to her in school, also testified against the bill.
Redding said the bill would not help create a safe environment for teachers and students.
“I fear that letting teachers be free of potential discipline or legal actions will allow the potential for abusive situations,” she said. “There is a line that needs to be drawn to protect a child, even one engaging in a bad behavior.”
Brad Meurrens, public policy director for Disability Rights Nebraska, also opposed the bill.
He said restraint can result in the injury or death of children, especially when staff are not trained. The bill contains no safeguards or provisions for staff training, Meurrens added. He urged the committee to instead commission an interim study to address school violence.
“The problems inspiring this legislation are complex and require a thoughtful, planned and deliberate process, which is starkly lacking in this bill,” he said.
The committee took no immediate action.
Information in this report is from The Unicameral Update, the official news publication of the Legislature, and the Bulletin. The report is also published in the Bulletin's Feb. 8 print edition.