A bill that would allow teachers and other school personnel to physically intervene with students to protect themselves or other students ran into opposition Monday from senators who, at the least, wanted training and limits on the use of force included in the bill.
And after three hours of debate Monday, the bill's future remained uncertain.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte introduced the bill (LB147) last year, then convinced senators to pull it to the floor for full debate after the Education Committee deadlocked 4-4. Now, he'll need to show Speaker Jim Scheer he’s got 33 votes to continue debate. And if Groene does that, he’ll have to defeat a motion that would essentially kill the bill.
An amendment debated Monday and backed by the Nebraska State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, includes significant changes from the original bill.
It uses the term “physical intervention” rather than "restraint" and specifies physical contact cannot be used as a form of discipline. It also requires that school districts create policies outlining when a student can be removed from and will be returned to class.
NSEA officials say violence against teachers and other school personnel has gotten worse in recent years because more students suffer from trauma and go untreated for mental health issues.
Many teachers don't think they can intervene when a student becomes violent, Groene said, and LB147 clarifies what is allowed.
Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, who is on the Education Committee, said the latest amendment undoes many of the changes a previous amendment made to address disability and children advocates’ concerns.
Pansing Brooks said she plans to work to ensure the bill defines the physical contact teachers can have with students; includes training provisions and requires that parents be notified about any physical intervention within 24 hours.
The latest amendment requires parental notification but not within 24 hours.
The amendment debated Monday was drafted by teachers and administrators with no input from child and disability advocates, Pansing Brooks said. But teachers have said they would support those changes, she said.
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“I don’t want anything that will add confusion to the law or make children more vulnerable, especially disabled youth or children of color.”
A second bill that will be introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil will outline training required for teachers — including how to deescalate a situation without physical intervention — and should address many senators' concerns, Groene said. He said if Murman's bill gets out of committee, he would fold it into LB147.
Now, he said, it’s important to back teachers.
“We are losing very good teachers because of this issue,” he said. “They can’t teach. They’re not allowed to control their classroom.”
A third bill would direct lottery funds to pay for the teacher training for up to five years, using about $2 million of lottery funds in reserve to begin training immediately, Groene said.
A sticking point for several senators: a provision that says teachers and school personnel won’t be criminally or civilly liable for physical intervention as long as it’s “reasonable.”
Groene said the bill essentially restates existing case law that makes it clear teachers can protect themselves or others.
Several senators questioned why the bill is necessary if it's already a matter of law and said it will reinforce disproportionate use of force on special-education and minority students.
Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha said he also was concerned the bill expanded the use of “physical intervention” to all school personnel, some of whom may have no training in dealing with children.
Several advocacy groups held a news conference Monday to express their opposition.
Brad Meurrens, public policy director at Disability Rights Nebraska, said the bill would codify rights teachers have already and be a “green light” for physical intervention that will affect students of color and those with disabilities the most. Statistics show such students are expelled and suspended at much higher rates.
Wayne, who introduced a motion to indefinitely postpone LB147, said it creates “carte blanche” for teachers with little recourse for parents and requires schools to provide support for those students who act out, which amounts to an unfunded mandate.
“We will create a situation of distrust, and schools will have to find ways to pay for interventions,” he said.
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