Iowa considers rules to limit use of school seclusion rooms

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa is considering new rules that would limit school districts from using padded seclusion rooms to discipline children following violent outbursts.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday held a public hearing on the proposed changes, which seek to limit when such rooms could be used and to implement a better system for notifying parents, the Des Moines Register reported. The rules also seek new specifications for the wooden rooms, which are typically 6-feet by 6-feet.

State law allows students to be secluded if it helps end a disturbance, prevent harm, lead to the confiscation of a weapon or protect the safety of others.

The rooms have come under scrutiny in recent years. The state Department of Education determined in 2017 that the Iowa City Community School District improperly used the rooms for minor infractions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Disability Rights Iowa helped draft the proposed rule changes, citing concerns that districts have used the rooms too frequently, particularly with students with disabilities and black students.

"The goal here is to ensure that seclusion rooms, isolation rooms, are used as a last resort, and not for discipline and only in emergency situations. The trauma that happens to kids when they are secluded is real," said Daniel Zeno, policy director for the ACLU of Iowa.

Matt Carver, legal services director for School Administrators of Iowa, said he thinks the current parent notification system is reasonable and that the proposed change would create logistical issues because it could require schools to send parents multiple notifications throughout the day about a child being placed in a seclusion room.

"We just feel that would be overly burdensome for educators and take away from their time with children in the classroom," he said.

The rules will next go before the state Board of Education for additional approval.