Dallas Independent School District
dallas school board

Dallas board votes to put video cameras in all special education classrooms

March 6, 2020
Officials say it will cost about $3.5 million to get all 479 of the district's special ed classrooms equipped

The Dallas school district will be among the first major school systems in the nation to require cameras in all special education classrooms to ensure student safety.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the school board voted 7-2 to install cameras to help school officials find out what happened in a classroom should an incident arise. The vote came despite the objections of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who said officials could not find another district that uses cameras in all special education settings.

Advocates of cameras in classrooms say they are needed because children who don’t have the ability to speak because of severe disabilities can’t explain to parents or teachers what happened if they are hurt at school. That makes it difficult to determine if an injury was an accident or intentional or if anyone else was involved.

Texas law already requires public schools to place cameras in self-contained special education settings if a parent, staff member or school trustee requests one. The timeline for installing them in every special education classroom across has not been determined.

Since the state law went into effect, the Dallas district has equipped 56 special education classrooms with cameras. There have been 11 requests for reviews of recordings.

Families surveyed this school year by the district overwhelmingly supported installing cameras in the classroom. The survey found that 75.6% of English-speaking parents and 90.5% of Spanish-speaking parents support the use of cameras.

Zahra Darwish praised the board's action, saying cameras in her daughter’s classroom have brought her peace of mind.

She requested them at Woodrow Wilson High School in 2017 because she was concerned that a new staffer didn’t know how to interact with autistic students. Her daughter Hanaa would come home crying and trying to hurt herself, but couldn’t explain why because she doesn’t speak, Darwish said.

Soon after the recording was in place, the employee moved on and was replaced by one with more experience in working with non-verbal students.

The survey found that 70% of special education teachers opposed the district’s camera mandate. Of those who responded, 28% said they would look for jobs elsewhere if the district requires their use.

That’s mostly because they fear administrators will misuse the recordings for appraisals, says Rena Honea, president of the Alliance-AFT teachers association in Dallas. That’s not allowed under the law.

But board members said the cameras could exonerate teachers falsely accused of mistreating students.

Officials said it would cost about $3.5 million to get all 479 classrooms equipped with the right infrastructure and to cover storage fees for the recordings. The policy states that recordings wouldn’t take place in blended classrooms where students with disabilities are in general education settings with other students.

Dustin Rynders, supervising attorney with Disability Rights Texas, said special education advocates lobbied to have cameras in classrooms because of stories of children being abused or injured.

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