Video showing an 8-year-old autistic student forcibly held in a “calm room” raised widespread concern and outrage. But many parents and educators in Texas’ Northside Independent School District are equally alarmed by the solution, KSAT-TV reports.
Under a new state law, Texas school districts must install surveillance cameras in special education classrooms at a parent’s request beginning in the fall.
Supporters of the measure argue that the cameras will protect vulnerable children from harm and teachers from false allegations.
But the law raises privacy concerns. Pascual Gonzalez, an NISD spokesman, explained that one parent could request installation of cameras over the objections of other parents who don’t want their child videotaped.
School officials also complain about a lack of guidance and funding for the installations, estimated to cost large school districts millions of dollars.
The controversial measure stems from the revelation that many North Texas schools were placing students with autism and other learning disabilities in small rooms to deescalate behavioral issues. Teachers used these calm rooms in the district hundreds of times during the 2013 – 2014 school year.
State education officials investigated a 2012 incident, recorded on video, in which a Plano, Texas elementary school forced the 8-year-old boy, Micah, into a calm room for discipline.
Velma Torres, a parent of a special needs child, told KRIS-TV that parents like her have greater concerns about their “special angels” than parents with “normal children” do.
Another parent, Veronica Contreras, has a son who is unable to speak and also supports the law. She recalled that her son came home one day with a black eye that school officials could not explain.
“At least this way we could go back and look at what happened, to see how to prevent it from happening again,” Contreras said.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, who authored the legislation, said he understands the financial challenges facing the state’s larger school districts in implementing the unfunded mandate.
He said the Texas Education Agency administers a grant program to ease the burden. Lucio added that private donations are another possibility.
A senate committee will hold a hearing Wednesday for the public to discuss their privacy and funding concerns.