HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Advocates for disabled children say a groundbreaking Texas law mandating cameras in special education classrooms is being undermined by regulators in Austin.
After listening to heartbreaking stories of special needs children abused by public school educators, lawmakers in 2015 ordered the installation of cameras to protect the vulnerable population. But in a turn of events which has alarmed parents, the Texas Education Agency has proposed rules which appear to offer school districts a means of dodging the responsibility.
Supporters of the law called cameras "an electronic witness that never tires and can't be fired." Legislators agreed in a display of rare bipartisanship. Eleven months later, it's a victory that special education advocate Louis Geigerman claims is being quietly undercut by rulemakers at the Texas Education Agency.
"This bill we believed was something that would at least provide a measure of safety for our kids and now the TEA is trying to basically rip that apart," says Geigerman, who led the grassroots effort to pass Texas Senate Bill 507.
Geigerman says under the proposed TEA rules, parents who ask for cameras in special education classrooms can be overruled by local administrators and school boards, in effect, providing a gaping loophole for district's to completely opt out of compliance with the camera law.
The rules have no provision for TEA enforcement of the measure.
"It's the fox minding the chicken coop," says Geigerman. "If they are making the determination without any oversight from the state, what's the incentive for them to find for a parent? None, because it's going to cost them money and it's going to cause them to be accountable."
The concern has captured the full attention of State Senator Paul Bettencourt who says the intent of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was clear -- install surveillance cameras in special education classrooms across the board with no opt outs and no exceptions.
"No excuse for this and quite frankly, I'm astonished that the bureaucratic mind is inventing a way to clearly stop what's the right thing for kids," says Texas Sen. Bettencourt, a strong advocate of the camera bill and close ally of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who fought for the measure. "It's the right thing for the teachers and it's what the State of Texas has decided is the law. They need to do the right thing."
Geigerman says the proposed rules also relieve districts of providing camera surveillance during summer school classes attended by special education students.
The TEA it is still accepting public comment on the proposed rules through May 9th and a public hearing is pending. The agency provided the following link: http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/Laws_and_Rules/Commissioner_Rules_(TAC)/Proposed/16_03_Proposed_New_19_TAC_§103_1301/. E-mail comments on the TEA rules to firstname.lastname@example.org.