ICCSD parents call for end of seclusion, restraint state policy

The Iowa City Community School District met via Zoom on Tuesday to discuss the implementation of the state-wide seclusion and restraint policy in the district.


Jake Maish

A sign for the Iowa City Community School District is seen outside the district’s administration building on Tuesday, April 28.

Meg Doster, News Reporter

Iowa City Community School District parents are calling for an end to the district’s seclusion and restraint policy.

Iowa City Community School District met with concerned parents via Zoom Tuesday night to discuss the district’s use of the policy. The policy has been heavily criticized by parents of students with disabilities and disability advocates, and contributes to a ‘school-to-prison pipeline.’

In January, the district adopted the state’s new seclusion and restraint policy.  

Heidi Pierce, a psychology professor at Kirkwood Community College and member of the district’s equity committee, said seclusion rooms in schools inflict trauma.

“Seclusion and restraint” refers to physically restraining and isolating a student in a small locked room until otherwise deemed safe to release. 

“I taught a mental health and prison class, and I learned that many of my incarcerated students were directly impacted by restraints, seclusion, or suspension, ” Pierce said to the ICCSD board. 

Gail Brashers-Krug, a mother with multiple children with disabilities who have attended Iowa City schools, said Black kids with disabilities do not get the same benefits her children do in the district.  

“It’s impossible to miss the parallels between the over-disciplining of Black disabled kids, and the violent over-policing of Black adults,” Brashers-Krug said. 

Data collected from 35 published articles from the National Library of Medicine said a range of 25 to 47 percent of adults who have experienced seclusion and restraint have a post-traumatic stress disorder incidence after intervention. 

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Vice President of ICCSD Ruthina Malone said it’s important for the board to acknowledge the harm that has been caused in the past. 

 “We have a lot of work to do, and I believe with all my heart that this board is passionate about correcting our issues,” Malone said.

ICCSD Superintendent Matt Degner told the board that the district’s goal is to have zero incidents of restraint and seclusion. 

J.P. Claussen, an ICCSD board member and former special education teacher at Iowa City West High School, said the attitude towards students with disabilities has drastically changed since he worked as a teacher, but is confident that the ICCSD can continue to progress.

“A cultural change does not happen overnight,” Claussen said. “If we can keep the pressure on, we can reach our goal. 

Tammy Nyden, the co-founder of Mothers on the Frontline, said a big part of the policy’s issue is that ICCSD is not sharing data regarding how the district disciplines students with disabilities versus students without disabilities.

“I’m very concerned because even though I have been bringing up this issue over and over again, I still have yet to see the school deal with social justice as a social justice issue,” Nyden said. 

According to ICCSD data, there have been 149 total incidents of a student being either secluded, restrained, or both in the 2020-2021 school year, but the data shown is all that’s been released to the public by ICCSD. 

For some parents, the data supplied by the district is insufficient, as are the efforts to reduce that number. 

Dina Bishara, a member of the district’s equity advisory committee and parent to two ICCSD students, said she wants transparency from ICCSD.  

“We want goals and benchmarks leading to the significant reduction of seclusion and restraint, and we want an accountability framework,” Bishara said. 

On Monday, Malone and Claussen announced they would seek a second term on the school board. Election day will be Nov. 2, 2021. 

In a press release, Malone and Claussen said they will campaign separately, but support each other’s reelection. 

“I am proud of the work we have done as a board over the last four years, and I am eager to continue championing the priorities that have guided me first as a candidate and now a board member,” Malone said in the press release. 

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