Iowa Legislature Approves Bill to Address Violent Student Behavior

(Radio Iowa) The Iowa legislature has unanimously approved a bill that requires K-through-12 schools to have discipline policies for students who are violent or disruptive. Senator Lynn Evans, a Republican from Aurelia, is a former superintendent.

“It creates more structure for what schools must include in their discipline policies for threats of violence or incidents of violence,” Evans says, “while still giving the school leeway to adjust based on the specific situation.” In March, the House voted to require in-school suspensions ANY time a student is removed from a classroom due to violent behavior. Last month, the Senate adjusted the bill giving schools more latitude, but requiring escalating discipline for students who are disruptive or violent. The House has now approved those changes and sent the bill to the governor. Representative Brook Boden, a Republican from Indianola, says lawmakers are responding to teachers, support staff, parents, and administrators.

“We listened and we developed language here that will provide the support in education for all the parties,” Boden says, “making sure that we provide the tools needed to ensure that we have environments in which children can learn.” The bill will allow educators to report incidents of classroom violence or the destruction of school property to the State Ombudsman for investigation. Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, is a retired teacher who suggests the bill is a good first step to addressing the problem.

“I think this bill has come a long way,” Steckman says. “We’ve done lots of negotiating on this. I still think we have a lot more work to do on it.” Senator Molly Donahue, a Democrat, is a teacher from Cedar Rapids who urged her peers to back the bill.

“It protects our teachers, it protects our kids,” Donahue says. “It makes sure that there’s some clarity around behavior in the schools.” A report from the Iowa Department of Education indicates there were nearly two-thousand assaults in Iowa schools during the last school year. Over 1,100 incidents of property damage were reported.