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Texas Lawmaker Wants Cameras in Special Ed Classrooms

Sen. Lucio (D-Brownsville) has filed a bill that would allow school districts to put cameras in special education classrooms.

Texas Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) wants to allow school districts to put video cameras in special education classrooms in public schools and charter schools across the state.

The bill is similar to one that had bipartisan support during the 2013 legislature, which passed in the Senate but failed to make it out of committee in the House.

Lucio says he wants cameras in special education classrooms to prevent abuse of students, "especially those that are non-verbal, are afforded the same protections and safety in schools as other Texas children." 

All recordings would be confidential and schools have to alert parents there will be a camera in their child's room. Cameras won’t be placed in classrooms if a parent objects in a written note sent to the school 30 days after they're notified. The bill says the video could not be used to evaluate teachers, but Lucio says that’s not out of the question.

“Overall, it will show us whether the program at the whole is effective," Lucio says. "I think we can still take up and consider that.” 

If passed, school districts would have to pay for the cameras.

Last legislative session, then-Senator Dan Patrick and Senator Donna Howard sponsored a similar bipartisan bill. Gayle Howard with the Houston chapter of the American Federation of Teachers says the 2013 bill failed because many teachers opposed the idea. 

“It’s not fun knowing that everything you’re doing is recorded," Howard says. "Not that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s a strange feeling, and it’s hard to relax knowing that you’re on camera all the time.”

Howard says some parents didn't support it either,

"In some of your severe and profound special ed[ucation] classrooms, you have kids who are having diapers changed," Howard says. "They're not small children. You want that on camera, if you're the parent?"

However, Howard says it could prevent false charges of abuse against a teacher, too. 

Howard says the bill also raises questions about student privacy, but that doesn’t bother Lucio. In fact, he says he supports putting cameras in all classrooms.

“I think it would go a long way to curb discipline problems, and it would go a long way to have our master teachers, which I think we have so many, show how truly good they are at teaching," Lucio says. 

It's unclear how much lawmakers will support that idea, which Howard says the Houston AFT does not support. 

Meanwhile, Lucio says he’s trying to find a school that’s willing to participate in a pilot program to put cameras in all classrooms. He's hoping to file a bill for the pilot program by the end of the session.

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