For the Best Interests of All

by NSEA President Jenni Benson

It starts again.

When the Nebraska Legislature convenes on Wednesday, Jan. 8, the 49 members of that body will begin making decisions that affect every Nebraskan.

Make no mistake, their work is a huge undertaking. They bear a solemn and massive responsibility. Each senator has expectations, and each will answer to constituents at home, and those constituents also have expectations. NSEA, too, sets legislative expectations – expectations that the legislative decisions that will affect your students, your classroom and your work are made with the very best of intent and with the very best interest and results for all in mind. 

NSEA’s goals and expectations, some of which are outlined in the box on this page, clearly frame the need for NSEA’s influence in the discussion and on the debate that happens during the legislative session. Senators need good, solid background when considering all the angles on the student discipline bill. Senators need input from educators when talking about why teachers need more time to teach and students need more time to learn. They need examples from teachers who can explain why low student-to-teacher ratios are important.

In considering the issues and the players, the NSEA Board of Directors and NSEA staff take their jobs very seriously. 

Serious Injury Averted

Each of the goals on the NSEA Legislative Agenda are there because they favor students and favor public education. It is important that, collectively, we educate public officials and the public in general about why these Association priorities are important. 

One way of doing that is supporting bills that protect children and educators. We believe LB147 does that. 

I recently sent an email to all members requesting input regarding assaults and violent incidents in schools. We have received tremendous response from members across the state. Those responses will be collated and used – with strictest confidentiality where needed – in talking to policymakers about the need for LB147.

I’ll also be telling my own stories, gleaned from my career teaching special education for more than 30 years. Working with students with challenging behaviors remains a passion and my life’s calling, despite the fact that I have been assaulted dozens of times.

I filed an accident report after one incident resulted in a shoulder injury. A student charged at a younger and much smaller student. I put my arm around the charging student’s torso as he ran to attack the smaller student. He kept hitting and my shoulder was injured. My principal received an email from the administrative office asking, “What does she expect when she clotheslines a kid?” 

Even though I was relieved I was able to halt what might have been a serious injury to a child, that administrative response floored me. It still bothers me, and I still remember it like it happened yesterday.  And that was just one of so many incidents that I stopped reporting my injuries. I was told such attacks and injuries were “part of your job as a special education teacher.” Frankly, that attitude is unacceptable. Our special education teachers, and all staff and all students, deserve better.

Proactive Approach

There are concerns from some corners about LB147. But over the past several months, NSEA has met with representatives from across the disability community to discuss those concerns. We have accepted every single edit to the bill they have suggested. 

NSEA’s goal is to ensure that all students and staff can learn and teach in a safe and supportive environment. Physical intervention is to be used only when a student becomes violent and is a threat to harm themselves or others. 

NSEA also continues to advocate for additional mental and behavioral health resources, for counselors, for mental health professionals, for students, as well as for ongoing training for educators that focuses on de-escalation and prevention.

As we continue our proactive approach to this problem, we must balance the needs of all students against the needs of one. We believe it is necessary to give school personnel the authority to deal with disruptive students while also having protections in place to ensure that those resources are being used prudently and not disproportionately affecting particular groups of students. We do so because all children and staff deserve a safe learning environment.

So, as I said, it starts again. And once again, NSEA will be there to make certain that the best interests of all students and all teachers are represented.