Clover school board to talk about cameras in special ed classrooms

Marc Sosne
Marc Sosne

School leaders in Clover will discuss the need for cameras in special education classrooms Monday at the request of parents concerned about the care of severely disabled children.

Attorney Meredith Siebert with Duff, White and Turner in Columbia will present the findings of a study on cameras in special education classrooms during a 7 p.m. school board meeting.

About a dozen parents addressed the school board in February, voicing concerns about the handling of allegations involving the treatment of autistic children at Larne Elementary School.

Some parents asked the board to consider installing cameras in the special ed classrooms as an added safety measure to protect children who are not able to communicate.

“It would give the parents some comfort, especially after the allegations, knowing the classrooms are being monitored,” said Ronald Russell, the father of an autistic 14-year-old student who attended Larne and is now at Clover Middle.

School officials said the Larne case arose in 2014, when an employee reported incidents of alleged abuse in a classroom for autistic children. Clover schools spokesman Bryan Dillon said the district investigated and was not able to substantiate claims of abuse.

Superintendent Marc Sosne said Friday that he will recommend to the school board that the district continue to study the camera issue before it takes action.

“My advice to the school board is that we develop first of all, a good understanding of the positives and negatives of cameras in special ed classrooms,” he said.

Sosne also said the school district should “develop policies and procedures to go along with it before we implement it, and before we have unintended consequences.”

Sosne said he also is recommending the board consider a uniform school visitation policy that would make it easier for parents to request to visit or observe their child’s classroom.

He said each school has a different policy on such visitation.

“If we can make it easier, more streamlined and more inviting for parents to come and observe, they will start building more confidence,” he said. “Because some of the parents feel like their confidence has been shaken a bit based on some of these allegations.”

Siebert’s study of cameras found that Texas passed a state law requiring cameras in special education classrooms if a parent requests it. “A number of major issues and problems and lawsuits have sprung up as a result of that law and the implementation of it,” Sosne said.

Sosne said the issue is complex because federal law requires the school district to protect students’ privacy. He said the legal standard for student privacy in hallways and other common areas, where cameras are already used, is different than the legal standard for privacy in classrooms.

“Whatever we do, we have to be very careful that we don’t wind up violating another federal law to do something that on the front end seems like a good idea,” he said.

According to Siebert’s report, posted on the district web site Friday, Greenville has cameras in one school that serves only special education students and Union County, N.C., is looking into the issue.

The report notes that cameras in special education classrooms is becoming a national issue, and that South Carolina has not taken a position. It says the S.C. Department of Education “is not aware of any cameras in special education classrooms.”

While the district studies the camera issue, Sosne said he hopes the visitation policy would help parents concerned about how students in special education classroms are treated.

Under the proposed visitation policy, parents are welcome to visit students in their classrooms; such visits require prior notification and permission from the principal.

Sosne said some special education classrooms have adjacent rooms where the class can be observed in an unobtrusive way. He said the policy would allow any parent, not just the parents of special education students, to visit a child’s classroom.

“I dont think we’re going to have hundreds of parents that want to do it,” Sosne said. “But we do have some parents that want to request it, and we want to accommodate them.”

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077