A bill to put cameras in the classrooms of children with special needs was approved by a House Committee.
HB 253 was authored by Representative Mark Wright (R-Covington). The idea behind the proposal stems from an incident in St. Tammany Parish where the mother of a child with special needs has sued the school board. In the lawsuit, she claimed that a teacher abused her son.
The bill would allow parents of children in self-contained special education classrooms to request that a camera be installed.
Local 33/FOX 44 spoke to director Brenda White of Animal Crackers Learning Center in Baton Rouge. Cameras in classrooms have been used at her campus since the learning center opened its doors in 2011.
White said that cameras, “give the parent a little bit of safety that they can log in and watch their children.”
Rep. Wright said, in regards to his bill, “Under no circumstance was this bill meant to be a criticism of schools or teachers or any kind of ‘gotcha’ moment.”
White said she uses a third party to run her camera system for security purposes. “They have the firewalls,” White said, “to protect the children because that is the main thing to protect their privacy.”
“The parents are more able to see what is going on and get to know the teachers because a lot of them don’t get to see the teachers when they drop off in the morning, or when they pick up, depending on the shift,” Wright said. “But this way, they get to see that teacher and how she interacts with the child.”
Texas and Georgia have similar laws that place cameras in special education classrooms that are self-contained.
Bienville Parish in Louisiana installed cameras in all classrooms around the 2006-07 school year. Director of Special Education, Dr. Laureen Mayfield spoke exclusively with Local 33/FOX 44 and said that cameras in classrooms have become “status quo” in her parish. She also said the experience has been nothing short of positive.
Mayfield said she can request and review footage when a parent has a concern. From there, she can determine who, if anyone, may be at fault. She said the footage also serves as a tool for career coaching and teacher development.
The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that installing cameras across Louisiana would cost about $7 million. The proposed camera system would record audio on top of visual, something White said she has not implemented at the Learning Center. Louisiana schools would also be required to store camera footage for a month.
The deputy director of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council Shawn Fleming said,
“Since HB283 was amended to only require cameras in special education classrooms upon parent’s request, it seems necessary to consider the percentage of classrooms in which that request would be made each year. The cost per camera and the total cost statewide for full implementation as determined by the Legislative Fiscal Office are considered accurate and I trust are based on thorough research.”
This week, the proposal was amended so that it would not take effect until the Legislature could determine where funding would come from.
In the bill, parents would need to submit a request every year in order for the camera to remain in the classroom.
The bill would require passage by the full House and Senate before being placed into law.