When Micah Watson, an 8-year-old with autism, came home with bruises, his parents suspected their son had been mistreated in a closet-sized “calm room” at Plano ISD’s Miller Elementary School. It took two years for the child’s mother, Bethany Watson, to finally see video from that day, which showed Micah being forced into a tiny padded room at the elementary school in Texas. The door was held shut while the child yelled, “No! No! Let me out now!” At one point the teacher egged Micah on with, “Kick me. You’ve already done it. I don’t care.” The student was knocked to the ground in an attempt to remove his shoes. When the child begged to be let out, the teacher responded, “No.”
This horrific incident led to important changes at Plano ISD and throughout the state of Texas. The teachers involved in the incident were fired. All calm room spaces at Plano schools must now be at least 50 square feet and without doors. This episode, combined with similar high-profile occurrences across the state, led Texas to pass SB507, requiring cameras in special education classrooms. Advocates of the law say the video cameras go a long way in both easing parent concerns and in protecting teachers from wrongful accusations.
The topic of video cameras in the classroom has been brewing for years. Schools that have deployed cameras in public areas have experienced dramatic safety benefits. For example, Fraser Public Schools in Michigan found that the incidents of fighting dropped to near zero. Police officers have found body cams provide an important defense against false accusations.
College professors are also eager for the protection that video surveillance can provide. In The Case for Class Cams, Amir Azarvan argues that “In an age of narcissism, we need to protect professors by putting cameras in the classroom.” According to False Accusations: A Growing Fear in the Classroom, “one in seven male teachers has been wrongly accused of inappropriate contact with students”.
“When folks know that they’re being monitored, it shapes their behavior—period,” says Berkly Trumbo, a senior director of G4S.
“We established early on that the cameras were a tool to deter harmful activity and protect students,” said Superintendent David Richards of Fraser Public Schools. “Criminal and disciplinary incidents declined almost immediately. Once students realized that the cameras were active, they were a strong deterrent.”
Texas is far from the only state implementing video cameras in the classroom. Other states run the gamut of studying classroom surveillance, to drafting legislation, to fully implementing new laws on classroom video as Texas has done. Georgia’s new law, House Bill 614, also known as the Landon Dunson Act, enables video-monitoring camera equipment to be installed in special-education classes. Parents in Wyoming, Florida, and Ohio are currently working on passing laws to require videotaping.
At the federal level, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have been discussing the Keeping All Students Safe Act since 2011. The bill would establish federal minimum standards to limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. The bill currently stops short of requiring video in the classroom, but consideration could be added as debate over the bill progresses.
Today, more than 70 percent of educators and IT managers believe that video cameras should be used in the classroom, according to a survey conducted this year of over 800 global participants. Two-thirds of respondents said they are aware they have been recorded on video as part of their work. 41 percent are aware of specific situations where video prevented or solved a problem.
(Next page: Benefits and challenges to video cameras in the classroom)
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