Cameras May Be Installed in Special Education Classrooms. Will It Curb Abuse?

It’s not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. Teachers accused of punching, verbally abusing, and other acts of violence against special needs students are not as uncommon as people might wish.

In a lawsuit in Covington, Louisiana, at Covington Elementary School, a special needs teacher was accused of injuring a student so severely that she left marks on the student’s body. In the same classroom, a teacher is accused of wanting to break a student’s fingers. A teacher is accused of kicking a student in the chest.

In Monroe, Louisiana, a teacher was arrested for abusing autistic children. According to the charges, she hit a four-year-old with a ruler. Another time, she locked a child in the bathroom for 30 minutes, letting them plead and cry.

The abuse of special needs children is staggering. In 2015, while special needs kids (5-17 years of age) are said to make up 5.2% of the population, they may make up 14.1% of child maltreatment. And because some of these children can’t say no, or can’t fight back, they make the perfect victims.

Sometimes teachers are injured by their special needs students.

Perhaps it’s time for some new laws on the books. One Louisiana politician, Republican State Senator Franklin J. Foil, representing District 16, is sponsoring a bill he believes could help, Senate Bill 86. The Senator said in a brief statement to Big Easy Magazine: “I believe it is important to give parents the option to request cameras in special education classrooms to give them peace of mind that their children are safe. Many of these children cannot speak or advocate for themselves if they are abused in the classroom. The cameras will also protect teachers from wrongfully being accused of improper conduct with their students.”

The bill reads, “Requires the governing authority of each public school to develop and adopt policies for the installation and operation of video cameras in certain classrooms.”

The law would affect public schools and charter schools, as well. Should it pass, the law does several things. First of all, a parent would have to request a camera be installed. The only people allowed to see the video would be the parent or legal guardian who asks to view it, along with the school superintendent and their designee. If necessary, law enforcement personnel would also be able to view it. The recordings would not be made public. Recording in restrooms or places where people are undressing would not be allowed.

Although New Orleans mother Erica Bergeron doesn’t feel she needs cameras for her child currently, she definitely can see a potential purpose: “My son has pervasive developmental delays so he was in Special Ed and has an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan specifically for those with disabilities), but he’s always been vocal, etc., so I was never concerned about cameras. However, I do battle the schools constantly to follow his IEP.” She adds, “I do feel that cameras are vital for non-verbal students. I actually pulled my son from daycare when he was younger for that exact reason. He also had a first-grade special education teacher who was awful to him. So in that younger grade, it would’ve been helpful.”

She’s not the only one who sees having cameras as an asset. Claire Tibbetts is the Administrative Manager of the Autism Society of Greater New Orleans (ASGNO), a non-profit organization associated with the Autism Society of America. Tibbetts believes many parents have a deep interest in cameras providing safety. She says based on conversations she’s had with parents it’s, “…something that a lot of families really want.” She continues, “It brings them that peace of mind because a lot of the families that contact us that are having problems with either the school’s treatment of their children or schools implementing their services properly, their kids can’t communicate with them to let them know, ‘hey, this is what happened to me today.’ And so, they have this level of trust that they have to have. And then when they hear stories that something negative happened, they get scared. I know a lot of the parents have been really supportive of this initiative…”

According to Kathleen Cannino of the Facebook group, Cameras Protect Kids, “Cameras in Special Education Classrooms are greatly needed. My child and his classmates in Pre-K would have benefited greatly from having a camera in their self-contained classroom. All the children had limited communication; a camera would have given them a voice. I have learned that my son’s experience is not an isolated one. Families of children with special needs from all over Louisiana have shared heartbreaking stories of their children’s mistreatment.”

This isn’t the first time a bill has been proposed to add cameras to protect students and teachers. House Bill 138, which came out several years ago, also had similar language.

But the big question remains, if this well-intended bill is passed, will it in fact curb abuse? That question remains to be answered, but parents are optimistic that the bill will make a real difference. Cannino says of it, “Cameras in special education classrooms are vital to ensure the safest environment for our most vulnerable children. Cameras also provide protection for our educators in cases of false accusations or serious misunderstandings. She adds, “Cameras in special education classrooms will show that our educators need the proper support and resources. It will not stop 100% of abuse but it will give these children a voice & allow the police to investigate if there is an incident. In my son’s case, the police did not investigate because my child could not say what happened to him.”

Just as important, they want to give it a shot.

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