Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, has introduced a bill that would help teachers more effectively deescalate violent and disruptive classroom situations.
Under the measure, when students experience a behavioral crisis that poses a risk to themselves or others, teachers would be permitted to use seclusion or restraint as a disciplinary action.
“This idea was brought to me by teachers from the 19th District and echoed by others from around the state,” says Walsh. “When misbehavior edges towards disruption, many of them have seen their classrooms torn apart or have even been physically threatened.”
Walsh's proposal provides an exemption for K-12 students under an individualized education program, or a 504 plan. Only general-population students, not otherwise disabled, physically endangering other students, causing a severe disruption or destroying property, would be affected.
“By narrowing the applicability of restraint and isolation to general-population, not special needs students, we maintain the spirit of other reforms in student discipline—while giving teachers more options for dealing effectively with disruptive or violent behaviors,” says Walsh.
Under current guidelines, teachers and instructional staff use “room clears” to separate disruptive students. When a student is causing problems, teachers evacuate all the other students from the classroom, leaving only the troubled student and the teacher.
Walsh says the method has been controversial, with many teachers expressing concern that “room clears” protect the rights of troubled students but show little regard for the harm caused to their classmates. He points to recent media reports out of the Moses Lake area, where disruptive behavior interrupted learning at two schools in a single day.
“Surrendering the classroom to a single disruptive or violent student is not the best answer to a bad situation,” says Walsh. “I cannot emphasize enough: this proposed policy change was brought to me from teachers. From professionals, working in the classroom. Allowing carefully monitored restraint or seclusion gives them better options for dealing effectively with disruptive events—without disturbing an entire class's learning. This bill is good policy. Good for teachers and good for students.”
The 2020 legislative session began on Jan. 13 and is scheduled to run for 60 consecutive days.