Groups weigh in on rules for seclusion rooms in public hearing

DES MOINES — One of the groups that pushed to limit the use of seclusion rooms in Iowa schools says it supports a revision of the rules that will go before the State Board of Education.

The proposed new rules say students can be removed from class and isolated in a seclusion room only to prevent bodily injury to themselves or others. It cannot be done as punishment. ACLU of Iowa policy director Daniel Zeno spoke at a public hearing and the rules, and says while they wanted stronger restrictions, the proposal takes some steps forward.

“Adding the language that seclusion and physical restraint should never be used for discipline or punishment is really important. Twenty-nine other states have already done that and so making that clear is really important and a good step in the rules,” Zeno says.

Nathan Kirstein, an attorney with Disability Rights Iowa, also spoke at the public hearing and says he supports the changes. But, he says, some states have gone as far as banning seclusion rooms after determining they can be counterproductive.”Hopefully Iowa will one day recognize this as well and make that next step. Until then, we support this step,” Kirstein says.

The proposed rule changes also require seclusion rooms to be at least 54 square feet in size, and makes an adjustment in when parents have to be notified that students were put in the room. It also requires school districts to report seclusion and restraint data to the Department of Education.

The State Board of Education voted down its initial draft of new rules after getting input on them. The vote allowed them to come back with revised rules again after more input without starting the process from the beginning. The Board will vote on the changes after reviewing the information gathered from the public hearing and input from districts.