New policy aimed at protecting special-needs students

Published 10:43 am Saturday, September 3, 2016

Local school districts are putting a new policy in place regarding video surveillance of certain special-education classrooms.

Nederland and Port Neches-Groves independent school districts passed the new local policy during school board meetings, and Port Arthur Independent School District trustees will vote on the issue at a September meeting.

DeEtta Culbertson, spokesperson with the Texas Education Agency, said the new policy stems from a bill last legislative season in which a parent, teacher or administrator can request video and audio monitoring in certain self-contained special-education classrooms.

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“Districts are required to come up with their own local policy regarding the issue,” Culbertson said.

There are specific rules and regulations, as well as some misconceptions to the video/audio monitoring.

The recording won’t be set up in every special-education, self-contained classroom. It only gets set up after a request is made, reviewed and approved.

The recording devices are not ones from which activity can be viewed in real time as it occurs. Instead, a hard copy is made, kept under lock and key and must be retained for six months.

“From my understanding, we are still working on this, but the principal is the one who can view the video,” Jeff Kucher, director of special education at PNGISD, said. “It’s not for everyone to come and sit around and watch the video. It’s for the safety of the children in the classroom.”

Protecting privacy, especially with special needs students, is a priority, so children not involved in a said incident to be reviewed will likely have their faces blurred.

Kucher said PNGISD has about 11 classrooms that fall into the specific category where monitoring can be done.

“This is put in place to protect children who cannot speak for themselves,” he said. “We are in the process of understanding the new law that the board voted to put into local policy last Monday. We’ve been in touch with our lawyer, who is getting the necessary paperwork together, and we’ll get it to campuses and principals and find how best to facilitate the law.”

NISD Assistant Superintendent Stuart Kieschnick said the board passed the policy at a recent board meeting.
“The policy is very detailed and very precise to give students protection, parents protection and the district protection,” Kieschnick said.

Districts aren’t required to put the monitoring in place until a recommendation is made, then guidelines for the implementation process will begin.

“I think this is a good law and a good regulation. It has the students’ best interests at heart,” he said. “Anything with the students’ best interests at heart is what we’re all about.”

Debra Cartwright, director of special education with PAISD, said the board is set to discuss the policy in a coming board meeting.

PAISD has about 15 self-contained classrooms that fit into the monitoring category.