Cameras in the classroom: Keeping a watchful eye on special needs students

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by Brad Woodard / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on May 7, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 7 at 6:40 PM

HOUSTON -- The Texas Senate has passed a bill requiring schools to place video cameras in special education classrooms. The proposal was created with the idea of helping students, but it could also be a benefit to teachers.

In Ms. Wilcox's life skills class at Lamar High School in Houston, special needs students learn to cope with the realities of a life they already know isn't always fair.

“It's always a priority for children in a vulnerable position that they are very well taken care of,” said associate principal Keeley Simpson. “Safety is a priority.”

That’s why state lawmakers are considering legislation that would require surveillance cameras to be placed in classrooms for students with special needs. If the legislation is passes, Texas would become the first state in the country to have such a law.

“There's just no way without objective proof from a camera to know what's going on, said Leslie Phillips, of Katy. She is a board member of the National Autism Association and has a son with moderate-to-severe autism.

Consider the case at Exley Elementary school in Katy, where special needs students -- some of them unable to speak -- were allegedly punished by having vinegar-soaked cotton balls put in their mouths.

There’s also the case of a special needs child in Dallas who came home from school with broken thumbs, dislocated knees and was even allegedly sexually assaulted by a former teacher.

“No child deserves it, said the child’s mother, Breggett Rideau. “Abuse at school? It's supposed to be the safe place.”

“The camera gives you all the context,” said Phillips. “It gives you yesterday, today, six weeks ago. It can actually serve to exonerate teachers who've been falsely accused.”

“I think it's a good idea,” said Simpson. “We absolutely support that.”

But can they afford it. HISD says it supports the measure in principle, but given recent budget cuts, it says the state needs to provide funding.

The measure is now being considered in the House.

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