On Wednesday, March 22nd the Iowa House of Representatives passed House File 604- an act for teacher empowerment. This bill addresses several concerns House members have been hearing from teachers across the state.
What the bill does:
● Allows the ombudsman to investigate any complaint received by any teacher or school staff member (who holds a license or similar certification from the Board of Educational Examiners) related to violence in the classroom or other violations of state law.
● Requires the ombudsman to maintain secrecy in respect to the identities of the complainants.
● If a school district requires an employee to participate in a professional development program, the school district is required to communicate to the employee indicating the section of the Code, or rules the district determines requires the employee to participate in that program.
● Requires schools to provide to all teachers a copy of Code section 280.21 after entering into an initial contract with the teacher and each time the contract is renewed. Code section 280.21 states that an employee of a school is prohibited from inflicting corporal punishment upon a student. It also provides that physical contact with a student that is reasonable and necessary under the circumstances and that is not designed or intended to cause pain is not corporal punishment.
● Requires a teacher to notify the parent or guardian of a student within 24 hours after the teacher witnesses the student suffer a bodily injury.
● Prohibits schools from taking any disciplinary action against an employee for disclosing information to any public official or law enforcement agency if the employee or contractor reasonably believes the information evidences a violation of law or rule.
● Allows a teacher to remove a disruptive student from the classroom under the supervision of a resource officer or lead administrator, and gives guidelines for disciplinary practices for first, second, and third occurrences.
Who is the Ombudsman?
The Office of Ombudsman serves as an independent and impartial agency that handles citizen’s complaints or issues with other government agencies. They facilitate communication between citizens and government, and make recommendations to improve practices and procedures. The ombudsman promotes responsiveness and quality in government.
The Ombudsman has authority to investigate complaints about Iowa state and local government, with certain exceptions. The Ombudsman attempts to resolve most problems informally. Following an investigation, the Ombudsman may make findings and recommendations and publish a report.
The Ombudsman is appointed by the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council is a bi-partisan group, comprised mostly of party leadership of both the House and Senate, that is appointed as the “steering committee” of the legislature during the interim (time outside of the Legislative Session). Once the Ombudsman is appointed by the Legislative Council, his/her appointment must be approved by a constitutional majority of both the House and Senate.
How this bill empowers teachers:
While the Iowa House Republicans have passed bills to protect children from bad actors and those with nefarious intentions in schools, the party also wants to support and protect the thousands of wonderful teachers we have in our state! This legislation is a great starting point for that. It gives teachers an advocate at the state level (the ombudsman) should they need one, makes sure they know their rights, and assures protections when they speak out, without fear of losing their jobs.