States require cameras in special ed classrooms

Following Texas and Georgia, West Virginia is the latest state to pass legislation pertaining to the use of cameras in special education classrooms

Parents and advocates in several states have encouraged legislation requiring the use of cameras in special ed classrooms. If children are unable to report abuse because of a disability, the recordings can assist in investigations of suspected maltreatment.

So far, Texas, Georgia and West Virginia have enacted legislation that either requires or allows the use of cameras. In March, West Virginia’s governor signed a bill requiring cameras, upon parent or staff request, in primarily self-contained classrooms. The law goes into effect in July and is conditioned on the appropriation of state funds.

In Texas, a similar but unfunded law went into effect in 2016. It requires video and audio recording upon request from a parent of a child in the classroom or from a staff member. The law applies to classrooms where more than 50 percent of students receive special education services for the majority of the day.

“A recording is only viewed if there’s a report of abuse, neglect or sexual assault as defined by our Texas state family code,” says Jose MartÁ­n, school attorney with Richards, Lindsay & MartÁ­n in Austin. Districts must keep footage for three months and post signs to notify individuals that recording is in progress. Other parents may not prevent the cameras from being installed, but if other children appear in a recording, their images must be redacted to ensure confidentiality, MartÁ­n says.

Although the cameras are intended for student safety, there have been instances in which hearing officers have issued subpoenas for the tapes in special education disputes not involving abuse or neglect, MartÁ­n adds.

Kristin McGuire, director of governmental relations for the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education, says that districts feared the law would exacerbate existing staffing issues in special education. “I haven’t heard of that happening,” McGuire says. “Most of the response [from special education teachers] has been: ‘Do what you need to do to reassure parents and stakeholders.’”

Advice for implementation

Since Texas’ law went into effect, Houston ISD has placed cameras in approximately 40 of its 283 campuses at an average cost of $10,000 per campus, says Scott Gilhousen, the district’s interim chief technology officer.

Requests mainly come from elementary and middle schools, Gilhousen says. Each campus typically has two self-contained special education classrooms. Two high-definition cameras with microphones are installed opposite each other to capture the entire room and adjoining rooms. In addition, audio-only recording equipment is placed in changing areas and restrooms.

“Be very clear about what your process is going to be,” Gilhousen says. “Vendors need to understand your timelines and you need to understand how to prioritize the work, and you have multiple departments involved.”

The district developed a request form, an incident report form, and a flow chart detailing which department is responsible for each step, from initial request to installation.

Also, consider using your existing vendors, Gilhousen says. Houston ISD partnered with Salient Systems, which already handles the district’s general surveillance, to provide cameras, microphones, a digital video recording system, and software to archive and search footage. Recordings are stored on campus, separately from the general surveillance footage, so that only authorized users have access, Gilhousen says.

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