Physical intervention bill could create policy in BPS

This legislative session, an amendment to the Student Discipline Act made its way onto the floor accompanied by a 3-hour debate.

Legislative Bill 147 was introduced last year by Senator Mike Groene in conjunction with the school board and administrators associations, and the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA). Amendment 1803 to the original bill went up for debate this year. Groene said he introduced this bill so that every parent who drops their child off at the front door of school can leave assured that their child is safe. 

“It is a very good bill,” Groene said. “It clears up a lot of errors in local school districts that do not have a good, solid policy. In actuality, it is color blind, academic achievement blind, so we treat all children the same.”

If passed, BPS would create a policy to outline physical intervention use in the district, abiding by the law. 

“We already have teachers who are restraining students when need be; it is not like Bellevue has had a huge issue with this,” Superintendent Jeff Rippe said. “I would hope that teachers would say the same, that we support when they do need to restrain a student, obviously in an appropriate way.”

The bill states that teachers and other school personnel may use reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student to protect all students, teachers, or other school personnel from physical injury. 

“Nobody has the right to harm someone else; there is no excuse for that,” Groene said. “So if you are harming someone else, there should be an adult in the room protecting you from yourself and the person you are harming.”

NSEA president Jenni Benson said she also wants every other avenue to be used in deescalation, including working with students to build relationships in and out of the classroom. 

“What we have found across the state is that we have some very diverse rules in different districts and some are ‘completely no matter what happens, hands off,’” Benson said. “In the meantime, people are getting seriously injured.”

Push back on the bill came from not only activist groups concerned for students and teachers who may be affected negatively by this bill, but also specifically from a group of parents who travelled to the capitol to protest LB 147. 

“The biggest problem with LB 147 is the blanket immunity that is granted to teachers,” Community activist Schmeeka Simpson said. “It says there are no administrative or legal consequences if a teacher reasonably restrains a child.”

Simpson cited section four of the bill where no teacher or other school personnel will receive professional or administrative discipline, or be held criminally or civilly liable for the use of physical intervention if such physical intervention was reasonable.

“I believe the only reason LB 147 is up for debate is because of the immunity piece,” Simpson said. “I do not feel that there is a legislative change that can be made because LB 147 is strictly there to grant immunity.”

Groene said the bill would not change the exemption from liability in schools, rather make it so every school must have a policy in place that the parents, teachers, and students will know. Rippe and Benson both said they would rather be proactive in these instances. Rippe said policies like the Boys Town initiative will be implemented as a proactive approach to change some of the behaviors. He said hopefully students understand with a common language and common model, then hopefully schools would not have to worry about those disruptions where restraint would have to take place.

“The question is do we really need this bill or can we just continue to do what we are doing but if that is the case to make it consistent, not only in the metro area but consistent across Nebraska,” Rippe said. “So if it does pass, it does create that consistency and people do see that. We just want to make sure we are doing the right things to provide the appropriate education for our students.”