Iowa schools that seclude students may soon face new rules

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -- School districts in Iowa might soon have to follow stricter rules for secluding or restraining students.

A seclusion room in Pierce Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. (Josh Scheinblum/KCRG-TV9)

Seclusion is a legal practice in Iowa to isolate students who are having violent outbursts. A KCRG-TV9 investigation last year found some school districts abusing the practice.

The State Board of Education put forward the new rules.

To put the new rules in perspective consider this, the current rules include the word 'seclusion' once and the new rules have the word 'seclusion' 55 times as it lays out new safeguards and requirements to make sure schools don't abuse the practice.

Democratic Linn County House Representative Art Staed sits on the House education committee and he says he is excited to see administrative rules tighten on seclusion room use.

"What they've done will be helpful," said Staed.

Current Iowa Code provides few regulations about what an appropriate seclusion room should look like. The board's new proposal would change that.

Under the proposed new rules, free-standing rooms, like the ones Iowa City Schools recently got rid of, would be illegal, as would those that are less than 70 square feet. That is in addition to requirements schools document instances of seclusion and restraint, notify parents when an incident occurs and requires reviews with staff each time seclusion is used.

Spokesperson for Governor Kim Reynolds, Pat Garret, said she "appreciates" the work that has been done "to move forward with changes to address this issue."

Staci Hupp, communications director for the Iowa Department of Education, said it was their agency that pushed the board to bring new ideas to the table.

"We recommended that the state board of education begin the administrative rulemaking process as a way to gather broad public input on those rules," said Hupp.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is endorsing the proposal. Spokesperson for the group, Veronica Fowler, said that is because they think the reforms will ensure Iowa's seclusion room laws fall in line with those already enacted in many other states.

"Specifying that they cannot be used as a punishment, specifying that guardians and parents be involved, requiring reporting, all those things are good basic elements," said Fowler.

I9 asked officials with both Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Schools, two districts our investigation found were misusing seclusion and restraint, what they think of the proposal.

Iowa City Schools spokesperson Kristin Pedersen sent along a statement that said, "The Iowa City Community School District will comply with all requirements provided to us by the Iowa Department of Education, including changes to Chapter 103."

Spokesperson Akwi Nji for Cedar Rapids Schools said in a statement, "We fully support the collaborative work that has gone into recommending changes to Chapter 103 and hope that representatives from all our stakeholder groups take the opportunity to provide feedback on the recommendations."

The public can weigh in on the rules at an input hearing March 5th in Des Moines.