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Iowa City: District dismantles seclusion rooms; teachers get de-escalation training for $58K

Aug 4, 2018, Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette: Iowa City School District dismantles last student seclusion room The Iowa City Community School District dismantled its last student seclusion room Wednesday, getting rid of the 6-by-6 foot boxes that have sparked outrage from some parents. But what’s next? Disagreement with a classmate, an F on a test or chiding from a teacher can spark anger, frustration or other negative emotions that in turn can snowball into violence. The district of more than 14,000 students still will use conference rooms and small classrooms for seclusion as a last resort to calm students who may be a danger to others or themselves. But school officials have made major changes, including improving staff training, switching to electronic reports and implementing a new clinical psychiatry approach for high school students. The goal is to reduce the need for seclusion and restraint starting in the 2018-2019 school year. … Statewide concerns Many of Iowa’s largest school districts have faced scrutiny over student seclusion practices and reporting. U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley in May asked the federal Education Department’s Office of Inspector General to investigate misreporting of seclusion and restraint used in public schools, citing the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s underreporting of seclusion incidents from 2012 through 2016. … Even though Iowa City has abolished the wooden cubicles once used for seclusion, staff still will complete a report anytime a student is kept in a conference room, office — even on the playground — against his or her will, Glenn said…. Improved training The Iowa City school district switched from the Crisis Prevention Institute training for seclusion and restraint to a new program called Safety Care, which provides more thorough training, Glenn said. … Safety Care also provides for 30 trainers across the district — compared with just six before — which means nearly every school in the district will have its own trainer on staff, Glenn said. The training contract costs the district $57,750 this year. PBIS, or positive behavior intervention and supports, is an acronym many Iowa City students associate with “tickets” teachers and staff give students for good behavior. Accumulated tickets might result in a prize or a fun activity. The program focuses on teaching students what is expected of them and reinforcing appropriate behavior rather than focusing on discipline. PBIS has been in option at Iowa City schools for many years, but starting in 2018-2019 it will be mandatory for elementaries and junior highs. Dina Bishara, an Iowa City parent and co-founder of the Iowa City Autism Community, said she’s glad to see better training for staff, but she also wants the district to keep in mind the mental health issues that may lead to behavioral problems. … On that front, the Iowa City district is expanding use of dialectical behavior therapy, which helps students learn to cope with painful emotions and lessen conflict in their relationships with teachers or peers. … Students learn coping strategies, such as distraction and pace breathing. They also learn to foster healthy relationships that help them reach their goals, Burkhalter said…. Starting this fall, the Iowa City school district will make dialectical behavior therapy available to students at all four district high schools.


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