IOWA LEGISLATURE

Funding for therapeutic classrooms unanimously approved by Iowa Senate

The Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
The Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — State funding for therapeutic classrooms as a means of handling violent students would be created under legislation approved unanimously Tuesday in the Iowa Senate.

Under the proposal, $2.6 million would be dedicated to incent school districts to use therapeutic classrooms and help the state education department develop standards and guidelines.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton who leads the Senate’s Education Committee, read messages from parents and educators who shared stories of classroom violence and thanked legislators for their work on the proposal.

“This will help every (school) kid in the state of Iowa by making them safer,” Sinclair said during debate on the bill. “It’s about making our classrooms safe.”

The legislation defines a therapeutic classroom as a space designed for providing support to any student whose “emotional, social or behavioral needs” interfere with the student’s ability to be successful in his or her current environment.

The bill also states that teacher preparation programs, including individualized education programs, should include strategies to address “difficult and violent student behavior.”

Senate Democrats all voted to support the bill, but some criticized what they feel has been insufficient general state funding for K-12 public education since Republicans gained at least partial control of the Iowa Legislature in 2011.

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Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said he hopes the bill is only the beginning of state lawmakers’ work on classroom violence.

“What I hope we do not do is take this vote today and declare this problem solved,” Wahls said. “I hope we’ll take this as a first step and not an arrival at a destination.”

A survey of the Professional Educators of Iowa found that more than half of its members experienced or personally witnessed violence in their school, and almost two-thirds have had “room clears” — when a classroom is cleared for safety reasons because of the actions of a fellow student — a group official said.

And an Iowa State Education Association official said its members are saying behavioral issues in the classroom have become more common.

“The problem was presented to us, and this bill will go a long way toward beginning to solve the problem,” Sinclair said.

Senate File 2360 passed the Iowa Senate on a 50-0 vote. It now is eligible for consideration in the Iowa House.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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