Board of Education adopts stricter rules on timeouts and physical discipline

The Iowa Board of Education adopted rules this week restricting the use of timeout rooms and certain kinds of physical restraint. According to the Des Moines Register,

The rules restrict some forms of restraint, such as holding a student facedown on the floor. Educators must get permission from school administrators to confine children in timeout rooms for longer than an hour.

School officials also must attempt to contact parents and document every time they use the discipline method.

Click here to read a more detailed summary of the rules proposed this summer.

The Register reported that the new rules are “similar to guidelines approved recently in Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

The restrictions are a step in the right direction but may not go far enough to deter schools from using timeout rooms excessively. This report from last summer about the treatment of some special-needs children in Waukee Community School District elementaries was quite disturbing. It’s not just the length of time children were confined in the rooms, it’s also the frequency with which teachers resorted to this form of discipline.

This website on techniques for dealing with special-needs children notes that “repeating time-outs too frequently in too short a period of time greatly limits their effectiveness.”

Two families whose children were sent often (and for long stretches) to timeout rooms in Waukee schools have sued the school district. Those lawsuits have yet to be resolved in federal court.

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State should adopt standards on physical discipline and timeout rooms in schools

According to the Des Moines Register,

A proposal before the state Board of Education would limit how and when teachers can lock up children and would ban risky methods of restraint, including chokeholds.

Teachers also would be trained to use “positive” alternatives, such as talking through disputes with children.

These proposed rules were probably inspired by media coverage of horrendous misuses of timeout rooms in the Waukee Community School District. After news of those incidents emerged last August, I talked with an acquaintance who pulled her son out of a Waukee elementary school because of a similarly inappropriate use of timeout rooms for discipline.

The Register reports that

studies have shown teachers confine students [to timeout rooms] for the wrong reasons.

A James Madison University survey of teachers at one Minnesota school found that teachers were more likely to lock up children for minor misbehavior.

“Without any guidance and policies, they make very poor choices, and kids suffer the consequences of it,” said Joseph Ryan, a Clemson University professor who worked on the 2004 survey.

The rules to be considered by the State Board of Education would force teachers to keep records of how timeout rooms are used, and would also stipulate that educators

– Can’t hold a child face down or otherwise use force that hampers a child’s ability to breathe.

– Must provide “continuous” supervision of children in timeout rooms.

– Must get permission from an administrator to confine a child for longer than an hour.

– Can’t lock up or restrain children for “minor infractions.”

– Can lock the door of a timeout room only if they hold the lock in position, or the lock automatically releases when school alarms go off or power is cut off.

– Must use timeout rooms that are safe and suitable for children of varying sizes, ages and conditions.

I am not an expert on appropriate discipline for special-needs children, but those guidelines sound much more reasonable than what I have read about the way some schools have used the timeout rooms in the past.

Members of the public can submit comments on the proposed rules until 4:30 pm on July 8. The address to which those comments should be sent is after the jump.

There will also be public hearings on July 8 to discuss the rules, and details about where and when they’ll be held are after the jump.

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Heads must roll at the Waukee Community School District

Words cannot describe my anger as I read this front-page article from Sunday's Des Moines Register, about a family who are suing the Waukee school district over excessive time-outs the staff forced on their daughter, who has autism.

Waukee is the fastest-growing city in Iowa. I knew that the school district had some growing pains, but I had no idea its leadership was so poor as to allow this kind of conduct, let alone defend it.

Join me after the jump if you have the stomach to read about sickening treatment of special-needs kids in a public school.

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