By State Sen. Zach Wahls, Coralville (Senate District 37)
The Senate has approved SF 2360, which is a step toward fixing what has become an overwhelming concern for our schools.
Classroom safety and disruptive classroom behavior received a lot of attention during the interim. There has been a lot of media attention on this topic, including the use of classroom measures like “seclusion rooms” and “classroom clears.” Fundamentally, issues of classroom safety are about resources and staffing levels—classrooms are much more difficult to manage as class sizes grow and we have fewer teachers per student.
As I worked on this bill in the Education Committee, I asked all of the school districts in my Senate district to weigh in with their feedback. I am grateful they were able to provide input as the Senate considered this proposal.
Responding to those concerns, the Iowa Senate adopted SF 2360, which will give teachers and schools more tools for addressing disruptive student behavior. This legislation is not perfect, but because of good Democratic work in the Education Committee, on which I serve, it has improved significantly from where it started.
The legislation does the following:
- Sets up a competitive grant program that will help schools create therapeutic classrooms to provide intensive help for students who need it. Therapeutic classrooms are designed to be short-term breaks for students to “reset” and develop new coping strategies before returning to their regular classroom. Schools may collaborate or partner with local nonprofits and mental health agencies to establish a regional therapeutic classroom.
- Provides funding to train educators on how to manage classroom disruptions and address student behavior.
- Increases job and whistleblower protections for teachers who report violence and personal attacks to school administrators and the police.
New information and data will be collected from schools so that we can see how often incidents of disruption and classroom clears occur. This will help us continue to make improvements that ensure safe and productive learning environments for all Iowa students.
I still have significant concerns about this legislation, especially how little funding was appropriate to deal with what is rightly recognized as a significant statewide challenge. I supported doubling the funding for the first year of implementation. Republicans in the Senate voted against this proposal even though the bill’s manager agreed that more funding was need. That doesn’t make sense.
I supported this bill, but I’m disappointed in the decisions the majority party continues to make with the resources people give us to improve this state. We must make sure that this first step is only the beginning and not the end.