Alabama lawmaker files bill to put cameras in special education classrooms

By: - March 17, 2023 7:00 am
Rows of desks in a classroom, each with a purple textbook on top. A whiteboard and projector are visible in the background.

A bill would authorize the use of cameras in special education classrooms. (Getty)

An Alabama lawmaker has filed a bill that would mandate the use of cameras in some special education classrooms in case of abuse.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would require cameras in  classrooms where at least half of the students receive special education care. The bill would also require them in rooms where special education services are provided, like sensory rooms, which create environments of controlled sensory experiences.

“In many cases, the children are not able to adequately communicate what’s happened,” Orr said in an interview on Thursday.

The goal of the bill is to provide documented evidence in case there are allegations of abuse in a classroom. Not all special education students are verbal or able to articulate what may have happened.

Orr said Kimberly McFadden, who lives in his Senate district, came to him with the proposal. McFadden, who moved to Alabama in December 2018, said in an interview Thursday that her child had been abused in a special education classroom when they lived in South Carolina. There were no cameras in the classroom, and her child struggled to verbalize what happened to him.

McFadden said that the South Carolina process required her child to sit in a room and speak to a camera, which he wasn’t able to do. The teacher wasn’t charged because her son, who had physical wounds, wasn’t able to speak.

“Nothing was ever done because of that,” she said.

She had to pull her son from a classroom environment, and he had to be homeschooled. Currently, he is able to do nearly a full day of school.

Alabama State Department of Education Communications Director Michael Sibley said they have not yet had time to “discuss and digest” the bill.

A message seeking comment was left with the Alabama Education Association on Thursday.

Both Orr and McFadden do not believe that the cameras will provide a privacy concern for students. 

Orr said that there won’t be anyone monitoring or regularly reviewing the tapes. They will only be looked at if a parent or guardian wants someone to look into an incident.

“They’re not monitored,” he said. “It’s not like somebody’s watching on a television set in another place.”

McFadden said that there are cameras everywhere now, so she isn’t worried about privacy.

She said that she thinks this bill will provide further protection for everyone in the special education classrooms.

“I think it protects the students,” she said. “I think it protects the teachers. I think it protects administration. I think it’s just a protection for everybody. And while it gives our children a voice, like I said, it’s just kind of like a protection for everybody.”

This bill comes at the same time that Orr is sponsoring the Colby Act, which provides more freedom for Alabamians with disabilities. 

The Alabama Legislature’s regular session will resume on Tuesday.

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.