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The state teachers union supports a bill to allow school employees to physically restrain students who become violent, though a host of organizations representing administrators and students with disabilities oppose it.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, chairman of the Legislature's Education Committee, introduced the bill (LB147), similar to one he introduced two years ago that was stopped by filibuster. 

He made a number of changes based on concerns with the first bill, but he said the intent is the same: to give teachers and other school employees the authority to maintain order in the classroom and protect themselves and students from violence.

“Our public school teachers are on the front lines when it happens,” he said. “Administrators are like the cavalry that shows up after the battle armed with saddle bags full of hindsight.”

The bill defines what steps school personnel can take based on a 1999 Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, Groene said.

Changes from the previous bill include expanding the authority to use physical restraint to all school employees, not just teachers and administrators; and removing the word “force.” Instead, it defines physical restraint as “holding the hands, wrists or torso of a student.” It prohibits the use of any mechanical objects and binding students to an object.

The bill also allows teachers to have administrators or school resource officers remove a student from class for unruly, disruptive or abusive behavior.

Principals wouldn’t be able to return the student to class without the teacher’s permission, unless a special-education plan required it. A conference with parents would be required within two days if the student wasn’t back in class.

Maddie Fennell, executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association, said the new bill addresses the concerns her organization had two years ago.

Many students who act out are suffering from trauma, and the NSEA has offered free professional development for teachers so they can respond appropriately to students in such circumstances.

But it’s prudent to give teachers the ability to deal with disruptive students, she said. Two years ago, the NSEA did a survey of teachers and 81 percent of the 7,000 who responded supported the bill.

“Even as we take this proactive approach we must balance the needs of all students against the needs of one,” she said.

Removing a student from class can allow the student to calm down, and begins a process to figure out what's causing the problem and how to address it, she said.

But several representatives of organizations said research shows using restraints doesn't reduce incidents, and the bill endorses a reactive approach and sends the wrong message.

At the very least, several opponents said, the bill should require training.

Kyle McGowan said the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association and the Nebraska Association of School Boards all oppose the bill.

“Ultimately none of our three organizations want to be on the side of using more physical restraints,” he said.

Removing a chain of command — allowing teachers to make a decision without administrator approval — reduces the effectiveness of the organization, he said, and good communication is key.

Others said the bill could drive a wedge between teachers and administrators.

Katie Bevins, president of the Nebraska School Psychologists Association, said a proactive approach — improving school climate, addressing bullying issues and training teachers to de-escalate situations — is more effective than reacting to bad behavior with physical restraint.

Juliet Summers, with Voices for Children, said the bill could affect children with disabilities and children of color disproportionately. Those groups already are disproportionately suspended and expelled and the bill essentially allows teachers to suspend students.

“Putting into law a reactive approach sends the wrong message,” she said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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