Louisiana News

Lawmakers to education officials: Find money for special ed classroom cameras

(The Center Square) – Senators on the Louisiana Education Committee have tasked state education officials with finding money to install cameras in self-contained classrooms for special education students, and they approved a bill to set a deadline for schools to create camera policies.

Committee members voted unanimously this week to approve Senate Bill 45, sponsored by Sen. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, to set a Dec. 31 deadline for schools to “adopt policies relative to the installation and operation of cameras that record both video and audio in a classroom upon the written request of a parent or legal guardian.”

The measure stems from complaints from parents of nonverbal special needs students who repeatedly have requested cameras to monitor how their children are treated in school. Foil sponsored a successful bill last legislative session that tasked schools with creating a camera policy, but the bill did not include a deadline and many schools have not complied, Foil told the committee Wednesday.

“We thought it was an important policy because kids who are in these self-contained classrooms for the most part are nonverbal, cannot advocate for themselves, and it’s a way to protect both the kids and the teachers,” Foil said. “Some school districts have gone forward and developed policies, and others have not.

“And the parents would like to see the school districts at least develop a policy so when and if funding becomes available, it can be enacted fairly quickly,” he said.

Foil’s previous bill and SB 45 do not require schools to install cameras, but instead mandate schools create policies for parent requests and install cameras “if funding becomes available.”

Two mothers of nonverbal students pleaded with the committee to pressure schools to comply with the law, and to find a way to motivate schools to work with parents. Both women said they have exhausted their efforts locally to press the issue without success.

Lawmakers questioned the cost of installing cameras in self-contained classrooms statewide, which Foil estimated at about $6 million. Department of Education officials testified that schools received well over $3 billion in federal COVID-19 funding, but schools are restricted in how they can spend the funds.

Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, asked education officials to report back to the committee with a more specific total cost to install cameras in self-contained classrooms statewide, “and if anywhere, where can you locate that funding in your budget.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Mack White, R-Baton Rouge, pointed to the billions of dollars allocated to schools from the state and federal government, and he suggested it would be in schools’ best interests to find a way to fund the cameras.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do, but it seems like a reasonable ask to me, $6 million out of $3.5 billion. We send out about $6 billion in (state school funding) already to the locals,” White said. “We do a lot of things, like they want a $1,500 pay raise this year. You know, so I would ask them, we’re going to try to get you $1,500, try to get a little bit of this money spent on cameras, they’re not real expensive.”

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