Classroom cameras keep watch on special ed teachers

Classroom cameras keep watch on special ed teachers

(Texas) Recent policy revisions made surveillance cameras in Texas special education classrooms mandatory if requested by parents or staff – but teacher groups say lawmakers missed an opportunity to push for increased training to increase achievement and safety.

Under SB 507, administrators will have additional tools to investigate concerns that educators are engaging in punitive or harmful uses of restraint or seclusion.  Opponents, however, said that educators could be mistakenly faulted for by-the-book restraint procedures, and that the recordings are an invasion of privacy.

“While we very much agree with the goal of protecting students in classrooms, we felt like there were better ways to get to that result than just putting cameras in a classroom,” Monty Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said in an interview. “For example, additional training for administrators on how to properly staff those classrooms, and additional training for educators in those classrooms about how to handle the rigors of special education and what to do if they observe something that needs to be reported.”

The bill was inspired by Bregett Rideau, a parent who filed a lawsuit against the Keller Independent School District in 2010 alleging that her son’s teacher assaulted him on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2010, resulting in broken bones, cuts and other injuries. Rideau had previously asked the school to install cameras in her son’s classroom, but district officials reportedly told her there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

In 2013, a federal court jury in Fort Worth awarded Rideau and her son $1 million.

Now if a parent, staff or school board member requests it, a school must provide video cameras with audio to cover every part of each classroom where at least 50 percent of the students receive special education services–excluding the restroom or areas where students’ clothes are changed. The bill did not include any funding for the devices, but did allow districts to accept gifts and donations to help pay for them.

Parents will be notified if a camera is to be installed in their child’s classroom and footage must be stored for at least six months. Recordings can only be accessed by district health or special education officials, parents who lodge a complaint, or personnel from the Department of Family and Protective Services as part of an investigation.

A handful of instances where children with little to no verbal skills faced verbal or physical abuse at the hands of a special education instructor or a class aid have been documented in recent years. Last year, a special education teacher in New York was arrested for physically assaulting one of his students after a different child recorded the incident. Online petitions for schools to address similar situations have cropped up in Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and Tennessee.

Exter, whose organization took a neutral position on SB 507, said that issues tend to arise in classrooms where students with profound disabilities or violent tendencies, and that these classrooms need to be correctly staffed with multiple people who have the disposition to handle such behavior appropriately.

“If rooms were be staffed this way, in addition to being a safety precaution, it would also dramatically increase educational attainment in those particular classrooms,” said Exter. “The cameras will hopefully deter some of those actions that they’re there to deter, but they don’t have any ancillary benefits–whereas additional training and better staffing can also improve the educational environment in addition to solving some of those school safety issues.”