From our school mental health advocacy partners the Iowa School Mental Health Alliance, ISHMA, and Please Pass The Love.
Please give specific attention and respond to the action request on a new bill SSB 3080 surrounding violence in classrooms. You can find out more about the specifics from the bill here: https://whotv.com/2020/01/27/iowa-senator-introduces-bill-to-take-on-violent-behavior-in-classrooms/
There is no educator, admin, mental health professional, parent or child that is supportive of violence in a classroom, but as a state, we have to be careful to invest in creating strong sustainable children's and school mental health systems rather reactive approaches that can do more damage than good.
We know many of you have already contacted the Senate Education Committee, which is great, but we ask that you remember to approach with kindness and respect. You will be heard with more weight if you lead using your expertise and stories versus anger. You have every right to be angry, too, but sandwich that in middle.
Feel free to use any language you want, but a suggested email may say something such as:
Thank you for your service. I am writing in strong opposition to SSB 3080 and encourage you to fully fund our children's mental health system and amend the bill to incorporate research and evidence-based school mental health and trauma-informed practices that are showing exceptional results across the nation and within our state. ((((This is a good place to indicate your professional role and share relevant stories))))
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For those wanting more explicit reasons why this bill is concerning, here are a few:
1. Therapeutic rooms are great, but a competitive grant program means that those able to write better grants will get the services. Second issue is that we have a dismal workforce. Right now, in the metro, we have therapist agencies that are desperate to hire, but there is a very shallow pool.
2. On the side, this language could open up a bevy of lawsuits for school districts. See Felix versus Hawaii in the 1990s (it cost the state $1 billion dollars). Many districts in our state have significant sped deficit because our state reimbursement doesn't come close to being able to meet the needs schools are having to pay for. Federal law requires the least restrictive environment is determined by the IEP team.
3. We cannot emphasize enough how directly related this is to school mental health. This is the direct consequence of not having a thriving children's mental health system. Research and evidence is clear around the nation and internationally that when we put in high levels of prevention and supports we see a significant decrease in behaviors.
4. We fully agree that we need to increase our special education service delivery models, but again we need to fund that.
5. We're alarmed that we have included the words "detention facility" in the bill. Many of the behaviors we see in schools are a result of trauma and untreated mental illness. We absolutely, positively cannot treat and effectively change behavior with incarceration. Over 65% of those incarcerated have a mental illness.
6. There is an overrepresentation of persons of color identified having behavior disorders and do not receive mental health treatment. This would only exacerbate this.
7. We appreciate the language around using the IEP team, but the word "reevaluation" is a particular review that is used every three years. I am assuming they mean a "review" or perhaps a manifestation determination meeting? Hypothetically, let's say that team says a student needs additional services beyond a self-contained classroom, then what? I work with thousands of educators across the state in the smallest to largest districts. This is the exact issue. They want to get the students help, but there is nowhere to get the help. There are so few resources for this.
8. We love the idea of data collection of violence against teachers.
9. Sec. 7 Section 280.21 and following sections are concerning. There needs to be language in there about employees having de-escalation techniques, using restorative practices. The language is too ambiguous and does not adhere to best preventative practices nor evidence-based crisis techniques. If an adult is laying hands on a child there needs to be a comprehensive crisis plan in place to keep everyone safe.
10. The return on investment is small to fund reactive measures yet far higher to fund preventative measures.
11. The language in this bill does not align with what we know about toxic stress, brain science, and mental illness and will further stigmatize and ostracize those needing help.
12. Our AEAs are already doing what this bill is proposing, but they are doing it better and with less funding. The AEAs have some of the most highly trained experts in the state that have implemented some of the most comprehensive school mental health and trauma-informed systems and are seeing amazing results because of it.
13. Finally, as career educators that have worked with some of the most challenging kids on the planet, even after being at the hands of violence, we absolutely can say that if we put in the systems we need into place we would not have these behaviors. The system has failed these kids and until we ramp up our systems we will continue to see exasperated behaviors by children.