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Orr working on bill to put cameras in special education classrooms

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

Legislation being drafted for the 2023 legislative session would put cameras in K-12 special education classrooms.

Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed against Limestone County Schools and an aide who allegedly abused a non-verbal 12-year-old autistic student, according to media reports. 

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said cameras in classrooms would protect students from abuse and staff from wrongful accusations. He’s asked legislative staff to look at other states’ laws, what might work best in Alabama and the potential cost of such a requirement. One cost that wouldn’t need to be factored in is additional personnel for monitoring. Orr said that the idea is that the camera footage would be there for retrieval if necessary, but the cameras wouldn’t be monitored.

Several states, including Texas, Georgia, West Virginia and most recently Louisiana, have laws requiring or allowing for cameras in special education spaces. 

Separate from the Limestone County lawsuit, Kimberly McFadden, a mother of six, has advocated for cameras by reaching out to local education officials, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, the lieutenant governor, and various legislators from around the state. 

Three of McFadden’s six children are autistic, and she began to advocate for cameras in special needs classrooms after she said her son was abused by a teacher at his school in South Carolina. McFadden said that even now, five years after the incident, her son is not able to complete a full day of school because of the trauma he experienced.

“Because there were no cameras in this classroom, this teacher was never charged,” McFadden said.

When McFadden moved her family to Madison, Alabama, in December of 2017, she continued the work she began in South Carolina advocating for protection of special needs students.

“It’s protection for our children but it’s also protection for the staff and teachers,” she said.

Sen. Tom Butler, R-Madison, said he will likely co-sponsor the bill.

“This is probably a good preventive measure, and I’d be glad to take a deeper look into the issue,” Butler told Alabama Daily News.

In Alabama, a few school systems already have similar requirements as well. Madison City Schools will soon be one of them.

On May 19 of this year, the school board approved a policy to require cameras in all classrooms in which at least half of the students receive special education services.

“There was some opposition initially but much of it diminished when the policy was shared and staff understood the reasoning behind the cameras,” Dr. Susan Zinkil, director of special education for Madison City Schools said. “We are hopeful that this will help both parents and teachers appreciate the Board and Superintendent’s commitment to students and staff.”

The policy says the cameras must record both video and audio and that the footage must be stored for three months, two aspects of the situation that McFadden has been adamant about.

She noted that with nonverbal children, it may take longer for parents to realize abuse is occuring, since they rely only on behavioral indicators. 

“We’re not asking for a nanny-cam situation,” McFadden said. 

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