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Teachers could restrain unruly students under Nebraska bill
Nebraska lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow teachers and school staff to physically restrain disruptive students and remove them from classrooms without fear of being disciplined
  • Updated

LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow teachers and school staff to physically restrain disruptive students and remove them from classrooms without fear of being disciplined, even as critics say physical restraint has been used disproportionately against minority and disabled students.

State Sen. Dave Murman, who introduced the bill, told the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee on Tuesday that the bill is needed to protect teachers and students, recounting news reports of violent behavior by elementary aged students in several instances across the state.

“Friends, we have got to do something here,” Murman said. “These acts have left several teachers traumatized and looking for a new line of work.”

The action comes as the national debate over unruly students and how to handle them has ramped up in recent months. In Arkansas, the governor just signed a bill that expanded its existing restraint law to add that — in addition to teachers — other school staff can also restrain students in some cases. Some states still allow corporal punishment, and in Missouri, a school district in the southwestern region of the state last year reinstituted student spanking as a form of discipline, as long as their parents agree to it.

But other states — including California, Texas, Idaho and New York — have introduced bills this year that would put limits on restraining and sequestering students.

While the Nebraska bill specifically prohibits the use of physical contact to inflict pain or as punishment for a student’s behavior, civil liberties advocates oppose the policy, largely out of concern that it would make Black and Native American students and those with disabilities more likely to be removed from classrooms.

That includes Rose Godinez, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, who said the answer to disruptive students is “more funding, resources and training” for teachers.

“It is disheartening to see state senators take another run at passing this misguided bill that could risk kids’ well-being and educational opportunities,” Godinez said. “We will oppose this bill every step of the way and will advocate alongside parents, guardians and teachers to protect students’ rights.”

But the measure — which lawmakers have tried over several years to pass — has the support of the state’s largest teachers union. Isau Metes, representing the Nebraska State Education Association, said she has herself physically intervened in a fight between students when she was a teacher in Lincoln, knowing she could face discipline for doing so. While she didn’t face any reprisal for doing so, she knows of teachers who have been fired for breaking up fights, she said.

The teachers union noted that the Nebraska bill allocates lottery funds to provide behavior awareness and intervention awareness training, including learning how to spot trauma and engage in verbal intervention and de-escalation techniques. It would also require annual reports on school staff’s use of physical intervention with students.

“School violence is on the rise across the state. Students do not have the ability to cope or self soothe when triggered. Educators do not have the tools to help support their students and ensure safety in the classroom,” Metes said. “This bill is about protecting students. I will be blunt with you senators; I can take a punch. I am not in fear for my safety. I am in fear for my students.”

Metes and one other person testified in support of the bill, but the measure drew opposition from more than a dozen others, including the Omaha Public School District and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

Dunixi Guereca, executive director of the Nebraska-based public schools advocacy group Stand For Schools, agreed with other opponents that the bill is worded so vaguely as to shield teachers who physically restrain students from legal liability. The bill does not define the terms “physical intervention” or its “reasonable” use, he said, and it’s unclear if the bill would shield a teacher who physically intervenes in a fight between two students after school.

“It is simply unnecessary to enumerate these protections in statute, and we fear that putting this language in statute will encourage the use of physical intervention in Nebraska schools,” Guereca said.

The Nebraska committee will determine at a later date whether to advance the bill to the full Legislature.

FFA students prepare for future careers with competition

Working together and preparing for the future are reasons 610 students from 19 school districts enjoyed attending the District 6 FFA Career Development Event Tuesday at Central Community College-Hastings.

Brooklyn Meyer, a senior at Silver Lake High School, said the skills learned in the competition provide many opportunities for students.

“It prepares us for our future careers,” she said. “It’s nice having hands-on experience to put on a resume.”

For Leah Cool, a sophomore at Sutton High School, that future hopefully will include becoming a veterinarian one day.

A classmate who also plans to study veterinary science, sophomore Montana Dietz, said the tests taken and skills showcased take time and practice to learn.

“You have to know your stuff,” Dietz said. “They prepare you really well for future careers.”

There are 25 Career Development Events FFA members can participate in on the local, district, state and in some cases the national level. CDEs typically cover technical skill areas related to agriculture, food and natural resources career fields.

The District 6 competition on Tuesday covered 12 CRE fields: Ag Mechanics, Ag Sales, Agriscience, Agronomy, Farm Business, Food Science, Livestock Management, Meats, Natural Resources, Nursery/Landscape, Vet Science and Welding.

“There’s a CDE for everyone,” said Cassi Jones, a senior at Silver Lake High School.

Jones has competed in vet science for all four years of high school. She enjoys the contest because she gets to work with her advisers and fellow students closely and learn more about agriculture and more.

“It’s something I hold near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of new and amazing people.”

Jones believes students involved in the competition have a passion for agriculture and fully expects students from the competitions to become leaders in the industry one day.

Brandon Jacobitz, Adams Central High School’s FFA adviser, who helped organize the event, said it gives students the chance to learn new skills.

“It’s a very good opportunity for kids,” he said. “They can start as a freshman or sophomore and by the time they are a senior, they have built skills that will help in their career.”

He thanked CCC for hosting the event.

Brad Lang, agribusiness instructor at CCC, said the event is a way to work with area high schools and get more students on campus.

He said it wouldn’t be possible without help from faculty and high school FFA advisers.

“It’s an undertaking and takes a lot of people to do it,” he said.

Jadyn Friesen, a sophomore at Sutton High School, said the organizers of the event did a great job of getting students through each station. He participated in the welding contest and was impressed by the facility.

“They have a really nice shop,” he said. “Props to CCC for letting us use their shop.”

Makayla Johnson, a junior at Wilcox-Hildreth High School, has competed for three years in the contest. She competed in livestock management during her freshman year.

“I think it’s a great competition to show what you know about agriculture,” she said.

Top individuals and teams for the competition in each category include:

  • Ag Mechanics — 1. Alma, 2. Blue Hill, 3. Axtell, 4. Minden, 5. Red Cloud. Top individual was Joe Fickenscher of Axtell.
  • Ag Sales — 1. Minden, 2. Holdrege, 3. Shickley, 4. Alma, 5. Adams Central. Top individual was Kylie Lancaster of Adams Central.
  • Agriscience — 1. Minden, 2. Axtell, 3. Kenesaw, 4. Adams Cen
  • tral, 5. Alma. Top individual was Hannah Nies of Minden.
  • Agronomy — 1. Minden, 2. Alma, 3. Adams Central, 4. St. Cecilia, 5. Superior. Top individual was Kole Nielsen of Minden.
  • Farm Business — 1. Axtell, 2. Adams Central, 3. Silver Lake, 4. Wilcox-Hildreth, 5. Superior. Top individual was Taeylor Samuelson of Axtell.
  • Food Science — 1. Blue Hill, 2. Axtell, 3. St. Cecilia, 4. Kenesaw, 5. Minden. Top individual was Angie Snell of Axtell.
  • Livestock Management — 1. Adams Central, 2. Lawrence Nelson, 3. Minden, 4. Alma, 5. Holdrege
  • Meats — 1. Adams Central, 2. Kearney, 3. Holdrege, 4. St. Cecilia, 5. Lawrence/Nelson. Top individual was Justin Barbee of Adams Central.
  • Natural Resources — 1. Axtell, 2. Blue Hill, 3. St. Cecilia, 4. Kearney, 5. Franklin. Top individual was Lexie Eckhoff of Axtell.
  • Nursery/Landscape — 1. Alma, 2. Shickley, 3. Kearney, 4. Red Cloud, 5. Silver Lake. Top individual was Anton Cook of Alma.
  • Vet Science — 1. Wilcox-Hildreth, 2. Kearney, 3. Holdrege, 4. Minden, 5. Red Cloud. Top individual was Charlie Wells of Holdrege.
  • Welding — 1. Alma, 2. Superior, 3. Franklin, 4. Holdrege, 5. Kearney. Top individuals include Trent Buescher of Kearney, Cory Hansen of Holdrege, Ty Ward of Superior and Drew Schoefield of Alma.

Contract change lets Hastings police officers live farther from work

Individuals living up to one hour away from Hastings Police Department headquarters would be eligible for employment as HPD officers under an update to the city’s agreement with the police union approved Tuesday.

Gathered for their second regular February meeting at the City Building, Hastings City Council members voted 8-0 to approve an addendum to the collective bargaining agreement between the city and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9 for fiscal years 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24, which was enacted Nov. 8, 2021.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9 is the collective bargaining agent for all of HPD’s sworn full-time police officers, corporals and sergeants.

Up to now, the current three-year agreement has required that officers live within 30 miles of the police station, 317 S. Burlington Ave.

The addendum approved Tuesday changes the residency requirement, plus one other provision to allow officers who are on call to be paid a stand-by supplement for remaining available to return to the police station within 60 minutes. Previously, the stand-by provision specified a 30-minute return time.

For perspective, a 30-mile radius of the Hastings police station includes Sutton to the east, Fairfield to the southeast, Grand Island to the north and Norman to the southwest. Meanwhile, a 60-minute drive can get a motorist to Geneva, Nelson, Hildreth or Henderson.

In written comments included in Tuesday’s council agenda packet, City Attorney Jesse Oswald said the addendum would allow the city of Hastings to remain competitive with other area law enforcement agencies for hiring.

“We need to be able to compete for talent and workforce, right?” Mayor Corey Stutte asked Oswald during the meeting.

“Absolutely, yes,” Oswald said.

City Administrator Shawn Metcalf wrote in the packet that he had met with the local FOP president to discuss the pros and cons of the matter.

In the end, Metcalf wrote, staying competitive is key at a time when police departments everywhere are struggling to stay fully staffed.

“As a city, I think we need to strongly consider supporting and bolstering efforts that help with recruitment, such as this item,” he wrote.

Responding to questions from the council at Tuesday’s meeting, Oswald said several other Nebraska cities allow officers to live farther from work than Hastings has permitted up to now.

These include Kearney, which allows officers to live 60 minutes away; Grand Island, which allows a 45-mile radius; and Beatrice, which allows a 45-minute radius.

Norfolk and Fremont each allow officers to live up to 20 miles away, Oswald said.

Council Vice President Butch Eley questioned changing the radius requirement to minutes from miles since it’s harder to definitively establish how long a commute will take than how far it is.

“I think I’d prefer to see miles,” Eley said.

In a counterpoint, however, Council President Matt Fong noted that the mileage between point A and point B doesn’t tell the whole story of how long it takes to travel between them, and that road conditions and other factors make a difference.

“I can see where the justification could come in for using minutes versus miles,” he said.

Oswald said Google Maps estimates would be used to establish the time required for a potential officer’s commute, just as they are for certain Hastings Utilities positions with a residency requirement.

Police Chief Adam Story said he didn’t care whether the radius requirement is expressed in minutes or miles and would defer to Oswald’s choice on that issue.

“Currently, 25% of our staff does not live in Hastings, Nebraska,” Story said. “Other communities are broadening their view to get quality candidates, and we want to do the same.”

The department’s authorized strength is 43 sworn officers, but that number includes the police chief and captains as well as the officers, corporals and sergeants who are covered by the FOP agreement.

Hastings currently has eight officer vacancies, but four of those positions are new with this year’s budget and never have been filled.

Story said officials had analyzed the likely effect of amending the collective bargaining agreement and that he foresees no detriment to HPD’s service.

“It’s not going to hinder any of the services we provide,” Story said. “It’ll be a benefit for the agency.”

New China committee debuts with eye on major policy shifts
A special House committee dedicated to countering China is set to make its debut in prime time on Tuesday
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — A special House committee dedicated to countering China began its work Tuesday with a prime-time hearing in which the panel’s chairman called on lawmakers to act with urgency and framed the competition between the U.S. and China as “an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century.”

While some critics have expressed concern the hearings could escalate U.S.-Chinese tensions, lawmakers sought to demonstrate unity and the panel’s top Democrat made clear that he doesn’t want a “clash of civilizations” but a durable peace.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have been rising for years, with both countries enacting retaliatory tariffs on an array of imports during President Donald Trump’s time in office. China’s opaque response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its aggression toward Taiwan and the recent flight of a possible spy balloon over the U.S. have fueled lawmakers’ desire to counter the Chinese government. The new Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party is expected to be at the center of many of their efforts over the next two years.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., opened the hearing with a call for action. Addressing the difficulty of finding common ground on China-focused legislation, he said the Chinese government has found friends on Wall Street and in lobbyists on Washington’s K Street who are ready to oppose the committee’s efforts.

“Time is not on our side. Just because this Congress is divided, we cannot afford to waste the next two years lingering in legislative limbo or pandering for the press,” Gallagher said. “We must act with a sense of urgency.”

Gallagher is looking for the committee to shepherd several bills over the finish line during the next two years and issue a set of recommendations on long-term policies. So far, Gallagher appears to have Democratic buy-in and support. The vote to create the committee was bipartisan, 365-65. Opponents on the Democratic side largely voiced the concern that the committee could stir an even greater rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Gallagher said he is committed to ensuring the focus is on the Chinese Communist Party, not on the people of China.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., the ranking Democrat on the committee, said both Republicans and Democrats have underestimated the China Communist Party. He said its goal is to pursue economic and trade policies that undermine the U.S. economy.

“We do not want a war with the (People’s Republic of China), not a cold war, not a hot war,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We don’t want a clash of civilizations. But we seek a durable peace and that is why we have to deter aggression.”

The hearing was interrupted by two protesters, one saying, “this committee is about saber rattling, it’s not about peace.” Both were ushered out by police.

The witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing included two former advisers to Trump: Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser who resigned immediately after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol; and H.R. McMaster, who was national security adviser from February 2017 to April 2018.

McMaster and Pottinger delivered sweeping assessments of what they said was the challenge that the United States was facing from China. That ranged from combatting TikTok’s influence on Americans’ online discourse and reducing China’s dominance over supply chains to hardening Taiwan to make it impossible for China’s military to take.

“It’s a big mistake to give an adversary coercive power over your economy,” McMaster said.

Tong Yi, a Chinese human rights advocate, amplified human rights concerns at the hearing. She was arrested in the 1990s after serving as an interpreter to a leading dissident who had urged the U.S. to condition trade on China’s human rights performance. She spent nine months in detention before being handed a two-and-half year sentence for “disturbing social order” and sent to a labor camp, where she said authorities organized other inmates to beat her up.

“In the U.S., we need to face the fact that we have helped feed the baby dragon of the CCP until it has grown into what it now is,” she said. “Since the 1990s, U.S. companies have enriched themselves by exploiting cheap labor in China and have, in the process, also enriched the CCP.”

Scott Paul, president of an alliance formed by some manufacturing companies and the United Steelworkers labor union, testified that “51 years of wishful thinking by American leaders” has failed to alter the dynamic that the CCP represents a “clear and present danger to the American worker, our innovation base, and our national security.”

The hearings come at a time of heightened rivalry and tensions between China and the United States. Both sides — the U.S. and its allies, and China — are consolidating military positions in the Indo-Pacific in case of any confrontation over self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, or some other flashpoint.

Last summer, Chinese warships and warplanes fired missiles over Taiwan in what were days of intense Chinese military exercises following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the U.S. ally. President Xi Jinping’s government at the time rejected President Joe Biden’s declarations that his administration had no control over the actions of U.S. lawmakers.

And three weeks ago, the Biden administration used a Sidewinder missile fired by an F-22 to end the journey of what the U.S. says was a giant Chinese surveillance balloon traveling across U.S. territory.

Both incidents, especially the balloon, captured American public and political attention, and put debate over how to handle China in the center of U.S. political debate.

“It’s another indication of the negative slide, the downward spiral, in the U.S.-China relationship,” Michael Swaine, a Washington analyst of Chinese security studies, said of Gallagher’s committee. The hearings will add to political pressure on Biden, who has continued to stress a desire for limited dialogue with China, to take a harder line, Swaine said.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he worked with the Democratic leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY., in forming the committee and that the U.S. failures with China are the result of not speaking with “one voice.”

“We need to speak with one voice Republicans and Democrats alike.,” McCarthy said. “I think when you look at Gallagher and the work he’s doing with the ranking member, we’re trying to go in lockstep, and I think all of America is pretty much desiring for this.”

Gallagher said he suspects there are at least 10 pieces of legislation that the committee can endorse in a bipartisan fashion. Still, he said the members will be looking for support from McCarthy before backing any legislation. One of the biggest challenges is that jurisdiction over the issues involving China is spread across numerous committees and members of those committees will want a say.

“I think we can play a constructive coordinating function between the committees to ensure that good ideas don’t die just because of some committee’s cracks or they get referred to multiple committees,” Gallagher said.