According to a new Texas law effective September 1, public school districts across the state will be required to install cameras in special education classrooms if a parent, school board trustee or staff member requests it.
“I am overjoyed by this new law,” Austin mother Jolene Sanders said. “I think it will benefit other parents who may be in the same situation that we found ourselves in 2 years ago.”
Sanders said had there been cameras, she would have known her 10-year-old son with special needs was being mistreated in school.
“I went to pick him up from school one day early and I walked in on it,” Sanders said.
Parents, like Sanders, who are supportive of the law argue that adding cameras into classrooms will ensure the safety of children with special needs who are more vulnerable.
“For these kids who can’t — even if they can speak — but really can’t articulate what is going on, it really gives them a voice,” Dr. Allison Salle with Tejas Family Guidance Center said. “Unfortunately there have obviously been incidents where they didn’t have a voice and needed to have one, and so I think it will turn around and be a positive sort of thing.”
The new law states that school districts are responsible for funding the cameras, which in some cases can cost more than one million dollars.
“We are hearing from some districts that it’s an unfunded mandate,” Debbie Ratcliffe with the Texas Education Agency said, “because at this point there is no assured level of state funding.”
Ratcliffe said any funding leftover for public education will go towards a grant program, however leftover money is very unlikely.
“I think it will be difficult for some of our districts to fund this,” Ratcliffe said. “It may not be just one camera, it could be multiple cameras because the camera’s got to show every place except for the restrooms and clothing changing areas.”
While the law takes effect in September, the cameras themselves will be required starting the fall of 2016. The Texas Education Agency said this will give school districts a planning year to figure out how they are going to fund the cameras.
“I just think that this is another layer of safety for our kids and I think that it’s a step in the right direction,” Sanders said. “I am really glad our legislators felt the same way this session.”