Teachers and other school staff members are afraid they will be sanctioned if they break up a fight at school, or physically pull a disruptive student out of class, so they don’t.

That is the premise of LB 147, a bill by Sen. Mike Groene to clarify the adult’s right to enforce discipline in the classroom.

The bill is aimed to assure school employees that they can intervene to protect students from doing physical harm to themselves or others. The bill was the first bill to be debated on the floor of the Legislature this session.

Debate lasted a full three hours without a vote. During the debate, Groene said he anticipated that, and he would get 33 votes needed to advance the measure. He said a colleague, Sen. Dave Murman, is introducing a companion bill to provide training in physical interventions to school staff, and fund it from excess state lottery money.

LB 147 says  physical restraint of students be used when necessary, and will not lead to a lawsuit or sanctions against those who use it. Groene said the majority of teachers don’t think they can intervene in a violent situation without being sanctioned.

He said the bill was introduced in 2017,  and is the most thoroughly vetted bill he’s seen in his five years as a state senator, next to the property tax reform and school spending bill he introduced last year.

During debate, opposing Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha said a 1999 Nebraska Supreme Court decision determined that teachers and administrators may physically intervene to preserve order in the classroom.

Groene said school employees are not generally aware of that decision. He said he wants custodians and cooks to be trained how to physically intervene too. He said legislatures commonly “codify” a court decision by putting it into state law, which is what he’s doing.

There was plenty of support as well as opposition. One supporter was  Sen. John Arch of Omaha, who said he worked with Boys Town for about 28 years, and spoke of a student who beat their head against the wall with no one intervening. Other supporters said students throw desks, and teachers are told to take everyone else out of the classroom, instead of removing the violent student.

Another supporter was Sen. Joni Albrecht, who said teachers are highly frustrated by the amount of violence that disrupts the classroom.

Groene said too many teachers are taking early retirement to avoid dealing with out-of-control students, at a time when more teachers are needed.

Opponents included Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, who said the bill would not help address the root cause of problems that can lead to school violence, such as large class sizes, adverse childhood experiences and a lack of behavioral and mental health services.

Wayne said the bill would disproportionately affect minority students, who are five times more likely than other students to be disciplined in the schools. Sen. Ernie Chambers said the bill fails to address the more serious problem of teachers sexually molesting young students.

Groene said “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.” He said since then, children have Individualized Education Profiles (IEPs) that include a process on how the student’s behavior is handled when or if they disrupt the class.

Groene said Murman’s companion bill will further improve the learning environment in  classrooms — providing behavioral awareness, physical intervention and de-escalation training, which shall be given to all school employees.

Groene has obtained support from school administrators and teachers. The Nebraska State Education Association (teachers’ union) signed a letter of endorsement, along with  the Nebraska Association of School Boards, the Nebraska Council of School Administrators and the Nebraska Rural Community School Association.

Until Murman’s bill is introduced and Groene can round up the 33 votes, LB 147 is on hold.

 

This report was updated at 9:30 p.m. Monday. The Unicameral Update, the official news service of the state legislature, contributed.