Measure requiring plan for special ed classroom cameras advances in Louisiana Legislature

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Senate has unanimously approved legislation to require schools to develop a plan to install cameras in self-contained classrooms by the end of the year.

The Senate voted 38-0 to approve Senate Bill 45, sponsored by Sen. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, to set a Dec. 31 deadline for schools to “adopt policies relative to the installation and operation of cameras that record both video and audio in a classroom upon the written request of a parent or legal guardian.”

“This is just a clarification of a policy we put in place last year that puts a deadline to come up with a policy for cameras in … self-contained classrooms of December 31, 2022,” Foil said Tuesday before the Senate vote. “It does not require schools to go forward if there’s no funding, so it doesn’t change that.”

The measure stems from complaints from parents of nonverbal special needs students who repeatedly have requested cameras to monitor how their children are treated in school. Foil sponsored a successful bill last legislative session that tasked schools with creating a camera policy, but the bill did not include a deadline and many schools haven’t complied, Foil told the Senate Education Committee last week.

Senators amended SB 45 on the floor to require schools to notify the Louisiana Department of Education once a policy is developed. The bill does not require schools to install cameras but rather to create a plan to do so upon a parent’s request “if funding becomes available.”

Two mothers of nonverbal students who testified in the Senate Education Committee pleaded with lawmakers to pressure schools to comply with the law, and to find a way to motivate officials to work with parents. The women said they exhausted their efforts locally to press the issue without success.

Lawmakers on the committee tasked education officials with developing a cost estimate to install cameras in all of the state’s self-contained classrooms and to find funding to make it happen. Preliminary estimates put the cost at about $6 million, Foil told the committee.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Mack White, R-Baton Rouge, highlighted billions in state and federal funding allocated to schools, and encouraged education officials to press schools to set some of it aside for the cameras.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do, but it seems like a reasonable ask to me, $6 million out of $3.5 billion. We send out about $6 billion in (state school funding) already to the locals,” White said. “We do a lot of things, like they want a $1,500 pay raise this year. You know, so I would ask them, we’re going to try to get you $1,500, try to get a little bit of this money spent on cameras, they’re not real expensive.”

Ethan Melancon, director of governmental affairs for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, told the committee officials have looked for ways to fund the cameras but requirements attached to federal American Rescue Plan funding complicates those efforts.

“We have been exploring this for a while,” he said. “We’ve reached dead ends across every avenue we’ve looked.”

Danielle Mitchell, deputy chief of operations for the Louisiana Department of Education, told the committee the department is unsure how many schools have cameras in self-contained classrooms, but promised to find out and report back to the Senate Education Committee.

In the meantime, SB 45 moves to the House for consideration.

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