HOUSTON (FOX 26) - After years of battle, parents in the Lone Star State finally prevailed.
In less than a month when tens of thousands of deeply disabled students return to Texas public schools lawmakers have insured them a new and valuable protection - an electronic eye on their classrooms - that never tires and can't be fired.
Texas will become the first state to guarantee the safeguard.
"These are the most vulnerable kids in society," said Louis Geigerman, an advocate who helped lead the fight to stop special needs abuse in public schools.
"Unfortunately, we see it widespread, everyday and it's alarming and this is the only way to insure the protection of these kids," added Geigerman who hosts the Special Ed/504 Radio Hour.
While many are aware the cameras will soon be available, installation is no guarantee. That's because the law requires parent's seeking protection to submit a written request to their child's campus.
In other words, no request, no camera.
"At least one person in that classroom has to have it happen and if you don't they are off the hook," said Geigerman.
Meantime, parents and child advocates alike are frustrated that more than a year after the law was passed, regulators at the Texas Education Agency have yet to issue final rules. It's a development that's giving school districts a reason for delay.
State Senator Paul Bettencourt says on this issue he and other lawmakers will eagerly hold TEA accountable.
"I think this is money well spent. My colleagues like Senator (Sylvia) Garcia and I all spoke up very strongly and said get this done. So, we are expecting that it's going to be done and if it's not, we are going to find out why is it not done," said Bettencourt, a Houston Republican.
It appears that won't be necessary. A TEA spokesperson tells Fox 26 Agency Commissioner Mike Morath has signed off on the proposed rules and they are headed to the Texas Register.
Meantime, the Cypress-Fairbanks and Ft. Bend School Districts report they are fully prepared to install cameras on request. Katy ISD says it's still waiting on a rule clarification before moving forward.
Houston ISD and Clear Creek ISD have not yet reponded to Fox 26's inquiry.
From Cy-Fair ISD:
"CFISD established a team of key personnel representing all district departments to study the implications of SB 507. This team conducted extensive research, made recommendations and implemented a comprehensive plan to begin accepting requests and ensure compliance for the 2016/2017 school year."
From Fort Bend ISD:
"While the Commissioner of Education finalizes the rules related to Senate Bill 507, our District is responding to the new legislation by providing video recordings in self-contained classrooms and special education settings upon the request of a parent, trustee or staff member. Over the past year, our technology division has also been installing the cabling required for upgrades to support the cameras used for the video recordings."
Enclosed is the information being shared in our student parent handbook for 2016-17.
CAMERAS IN THE CLASSROOM
The District shall comply with the rules and regulations related to Senate Bill 507. On the appropriate request of a parent, trustee, or staff member, the District must provide video equipment, including video cameras with audio recording capabilities, to campuses in accordance with Section 29.002, Texas Education Code and 19 T.A.C. § 103.1301. Campuses that receive equipment must place, operate, and maintain video cameras in certain self-contained classrooms or other special education settings. Video recordings are confidential and may only be released for viewing to certain individuals as defined by the Texas Education Code. Any preliminary information concerning Senate Bill 507 is subject to change upon release of the Commissioner of Education’s final rules, which had not been issued at the time this Handbook was printed. The District will post any pertinent changes to FBISD’s website.
Statement from Katy ISD:
"Katy ISD is aware of Senate Bill 507. We are still waiting for the State’s response to clarify if a request from a parent regarding surveillance cameras in special education classrooms triggers cameras in only one classroom or if it should be implemented through the district, wherever we have self-contained programs.
We hope to receive a response from the State soon."