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Iowa State Board of Education limits the use of seclusion rooms to discipline students

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- The Iowa State Board of Education is making changes to when and how school districts can use seclusion and restraint rooms to discipline students.

Their existence alone has been a hot button issue for many parents and educators.

The board voted unanimously to adopt the new rules on Wednesday.

The change limits educators to using the seclusion and restraint rooms for students only as a last resort and when there is a threat of physical injury.

Educators will be required to notify parents of the use of seclusion and restraint rooms as soon as possible. The rooms are required to be at least 7x8 feet. In some cases, current seclusion rooms are as small as 6x6.

"We'd prefer they are never used, but we understand there are times when safety measures must be taken to protect children and staff," ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer said. "The rules that were adopted by the board of education are good for students in the state. They're good for families and good for the schools themselves."

The changes come after a three-year-long effort by a coalition of groups including the ACLU and Disability Rights Iowa. Stringer said it was spurred by actions by the Iowa City Community School District.

In 2017, the Iowa Department of Education determined educators in the district improperly used the rooms for minor infractions.

"When stories like these break of the use of seclusion rooms on our kids, it does get people riled up and appropriately so," Stringer said. "I think those stories from the Iowa City area certainly propelled this issue."

Stringer said the new changes are a step forward, but there is still more work to do. He said data shows the rooms are disproportionately used against black and brown students with disabilities.

"Research has shown that it has long term negative impacts very detrimental to students mental health," he said. "Even several years after a student has been placed in one of these rooms, the trauma of that experience stays with them."

Schools have five years to comply with the new requirements. The new rules go into effect on January 20, 2021.

You can read the full amended policy from the State Board of Education here:

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Daniel Perreault

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