Monday’s opening debate on North Platte state Sen. Mike Groene’s student discipline bill amounted to a legislative floor preview of skirmishes to come.
The three-hour discussion ended without a vote to kill, rewrite or advance Legislative Bill 147, part of Groene’s four-year-long effort to better define what school employees can and cannot do to control unruly students.
But that result was expected, Groene told The Telegraph later Monday, under his plan to revise LB 147 as part of an evolving set of new and old bills to improve staff training in defusing disruptive situations.
Once the new bills reach the floor, he should be able to get the two-thirds vote needed to move LB 147 forward, he said.
The Legislature’s first morning of 2020 floor debate darted among various versions of Groene’s bill, talks on which have yet to unite education groups and advocates for families, minorities and disabled people.
Groene, chairman of the Education Committee, won a 25-13 floor vote last May to pull LB 147 out of his own deadlocked committee. Senators then adjourned the 2019 session six days early without further debate.
As originally written, Groene’s bill says a teacher or administrator “may use the necessary physical contact or physical restraint” to control a “physically violent” student endangering others or himself or herself.
Teachers or administrators doing so “in a reasonable manner” could not be “subject to legal action or administrative discipline” for doing so, the bill’s introduced version says.
But LB 147’s current language would be stripped from the bill and replaced with an amendment backed by Nebraska’s teacher, school board and administrator groups, Groene told his fellow senators.
He said those groups crafted the amendment after months of broader talks among interested parties, including advocacy groups for children and disabled people that renewed their opposition to LB 147 last week.
The Nebraska Council of School Administrators joined them in opposing the bill, which has been backed by the Nebraska State Education Association and groups representing Nebraska school boards and rural districts.
The school groups’ amendment would allow “reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student” and protect him or her or others from injury.
It would bar school personnel from “inflicting bodily pain as a penalty for disapproved behavior.” But neither they nor their school district could be held “criminally or civilly liable” if “reasonable” physical intervention was used, it says.
Assuming school policy has been followed, disruptive students could be removed from a class unless they have a special-education plan forbidding it, the school groups’ amendment says.
Full texts of LB 147’s original version, Groene’s proposed amendment (AM 1803) and amendments proposed by other senators may be found by searching for LB 147 at nebraskalegislature.gov.
Groene said one new bill has been introduced, with another still to come, to define and fund additional training in disruptive situations for teachers and staff.
Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, another Education Committee member, will introduce the bill to set the parameters for additional required training. Groene said the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes Office was still working on the language Monday.
Groene last week introduced LB 920, which would revise the distribution of schools’ share of Nebraska Lottery profits to direct funds no longer needed for other purposes to pay for the additional training.
He promised senators that the Education Committee will expedite consideration of both LB 920 and Murman’s training bill. The latter could be added to LB 147 after its public hearing and any needed revisions, he said.
Doing so “should bring the needed 33 votes” from the 49 senators to move the student-discipline package forward, Groene told The Telegraph.
As it was, LB 147 came under attack Monday from urban senators who called Groene’s battle plan confusing and said it would worsen mistreatment of and discrimination against minority and disabled students.
Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne moved to kill the bill, saying minority students already are more likely to be disciplined and it’s logical LB 147 would increase that.
The former Omaha school board member also called LB 147’s evolving training and treatment requirements another “unfunded mandate ... which I’m OK with, but I’m just letting my rural colleagues know.”
Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said the broader group assembled by Groene had won strong Education Committee backing for a different proposal until the school groups backed out and wrote their own.
Other opponents worried that the bill’s focus on controlling students would reinforce a “school-to-prison system” already dooming many troubled students in Nebraska.
“Every child matters, not just the good boys and girls or the white boys and girls or the smart boys and girls,” said Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha.
Veteran Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, like Wayne an African-American senator, charged Groene and senators backing LB 147 with failing to acknowledge sexual abuse of students by teachers.
“Sen. Groene talks about loving children,” Chambers said, citing recent Omaha World-Herald coverage on sexual abuse against students.
“How can you say you love children when you know 7-year-old girls are being groomed from the time they’re in kindergarten?”
Groene replied that another bill is being prepared to address sexual misconduct by educators. When introduced, “I doubt you will find one individual in this body who’s against it,” he said.
Stronger definitions of expected behavior by educators, he added, just might dissuade “these guys putting their hands on little girls, pretending to be their friends, instead of being the disciplinarian in the room.”