New Law Aims to Give Teachers the Tools They Need To Make Classrooms Safer

Classroom safety has become a major talking point this year, as a recent report by the Oregon Education Association, highlighted a trend of students exhibiting increasingly abusive and dangerous behaviors, from screaming, threatening and use of profanity, to spitting, kicking, overturning desks and brandishing scissors as a weapon.

This week, Oregon lawmakers passed new legislation they hope will help give teachers the tools they need to make classrooms safer. Senate Bill 963, which passed in the House Wednesday and now heads to the governor’s desk for her signature, updates state laws around restraining and removing disruptive students from classrooms.

One of the bill’s chief sponsors, Rep. Susan McLain, of Forest Grove, said: “I have heard countless stories from teachers about kids running out into the street, throwing chairs and getting into physical fights, and those teachers being unable to intervene in any real way. With this legislation, we can make sure our classrooms are safe and our teachers are well equipped to do their jobs.”

In 2011, the Oregon Legislature passed legislation limiting the use of restraint and seclusion of students within schools and youth services. While the legislation worked to provide protections for students, it created ambiguity in the law for educators and administrators about how and when disruptive students could be removed from a classroom. Under current law, educators are not able to physically intervene if a student engages in activities that could be dangerous for them or other students.

SB 963 clarifies how students can be restrained when they are engaged in dangerous behaviors for themselves or others, prohibits certain types of restraints that can be unsafe, and requires districts to improve reporting when incidents do occur. The Oregon Department of Education would be responsible for holding districts accountable.

In Canby, a recent behavior report prepared by district staff and presented to the school board indicated that office disciplinary referrals at the grade school level are much higher at this point in time in 2018 and 2019 than they were in previous years: 88 this year and 84 last year.

In the previous three years before that, there had been only 93 disciplinary referrals, combined, at this point in the school year.

District Communications Coordinator Autumn Foster said there have also been 21 incidents reported so far this year involving physical contact from a student to a staff member, though HIPAA and other regulations require that the details of these incidents be kept confidential.

On the flip side, last month’s report by the district indicated that disciplinary incidents at the high school level were the lowest they’ve been in five years, with only 351 being reported so far, down from 562 at this point last year.

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