By Sheridan Wall, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Special education classrooms in Louisiana public schools might be monitored by cameras under a bill advanced by the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
The bill, by Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, would allow parents of children in self-contained special education classrooms to request that a camera be installed to monitor class activity.
“Under no circumstance was this bill meant to be a criticism of schools or teachers or any kind of gotcha moment,” Wright said. He added that his proposal is meant to be a “dispute resolution tool first and foremost.”
If installed, a camera would remain throughout the duration of the school year. Parents could submit a request the next year if they wanted their child’s classroom to continue to be monitored. Schools would be required to store camera footage for a month.
Wright said the idea resulted from a recent lawsuit in his district involving poor classroom treatment of special needs children. The bill might need to be considered by other committees and also would require passage by the full House and Senate.
Kathleen Cannino from St. Tammany Parish, the mother of a child with a genetic disorder, said she supports more accountability. She added that the cameras could “save a lot of heartache for a lot of parents and children.”
“As it is right now, you have to take the school’s word on what happened, especially for those children who can’t speak for themselves,” Cannino said.
Cannino is involved in a lawsuit against the St. Tammany Parish School Board and school employees concerning alleged teacher abuse of her son.
Texas and Georgia already have similar cameras in place, and the Bienville Parish School Board has installed cameras in its classrooms dedicated to special education.
The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that installing the cameras would cost about $7 million, with each camera costing around $5,000, though some lawmakers said they thought the price could be lower.
Wright’s proposal was amended so that it would not take effect until the Legislature appropriated the funds.
Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, questioned the consequences of advancing the proposal without adequate funding.
“I think this amendment is going to bring an enormous amount of disappointment,” Edmonds said. “I’m not trying to kill the bill. I’m not trying to hurt anything. I’m just being honest.”
The camera systems would record footage on a closed circuit and include technology that could blur the children’s faces.
But Deborah Meaux of the Louisiana Association of Educators said she is still concerned about privacy. Meaux opposed the bill and advocated for strict protocols surrounding the storage and access of the footage.
Sarah Vandergriff of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools agreed with Meaux’s concerns, especially for students in foster care who cannot give the school permission to take pictures.
Also supporting the bill were members of the Louisiana Council’s Advocacy Network, including Dana Duke, father of a special-needs child.
“I feel like the opposition to this bill, apart from a monetary standpoint, should be heavily questioned,” Duke said. “As sad as it is to say, sometimes our children need to be protected from the very people we have entrusted with this duty.”
The committee also advanced a proposal to allow students pursuing master’s degrees to become certified teachers without earning the required 2.5 grade point average as undergraduates.
The proposal, by Rep. Wayne McMahen, R-Minden, would allow students to return to school after professional experience in another field.