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Back To School: Are Cameras Needed?

Surveillance cameraOur friend Leslie Phillips of National Autism Association asks an excellent question in this important back to school article: "You have to ask yourself, why don't they want them?  Why don't they want us to see what's happening in the classrooms," said Leslie Phillips, mother of an autistic son and board member of the National Autism Association.

Phillips says Texas school districts have no credible excuse for prohibiting cameras.

"It's like throwing kerosene on a fire and expecting it not to burn.  If you put poorly trained teachers and aides in these classrooms with children who have these challenges and nobody to watch out for them," said Phillips.

My daughter's abuser was caught, arrested and convicted because of cameras on her school bus. I'm all for cameras in schools. KS


In a world where every child needs protection, Hailey Penny will always need more than most.

She trusts everyone, without condition, especially her parents and her teachers.

But by fall 2010, the once perpetually cheerful 10-year-old had spent months fearful and deeply withdrawn.

"We were at our wits end.  We were literally racking our brains, in tears wondering, what's going on with our child, you know?" recalled David Penny, Hailey's father.

On an afternoon the Pennys will never forget, the "cause" came home on the body of their disabled child in the form of scrapes and heavy bruising.  They were injuries, an investigation quickly confirmed, that were inflicted by a teacher's aide in Hailey's New Caney ISD Special Needs classroom.

"It hurt me," Hailey said before hiding her face in her hands.

"If I was to put bruises and marks on my child like that or any child for that matter, they would put me in jail.  I would be in jail for child abuse! How are they any different?" asked David.

But in this case, the teacher's aide who hurt Hailey walked away.  Montgomery County prosecutors claim they lacked evidence to convince a grand jury, the kind of proof that could have come from a surveillance camera if the classroom had just had one.

"They need to be in the classrooms where the children can't defend themselves, in classrooms where a child is not able to come home and say 'Mommy, Daddy, so and so is hurting me'," said David Penny.
FOX 26 has learned the same aide was reprimanded for mistreating Hailey and other disabled students just five months before, and yet New Caney ISD failed to tell the Pennys of the alleged abuse or to install surveillance to insure it didn't happen again.

Hailey's mistreatment is hardly isolated.  Over the past year, FOX 26 has uncovered a half dozen cases in the Houston area alone in which disabled kids, isolated in self-contained public school classrooms have been persecuted or preyed upon by the very people who are supposed to protect them.

In Fort Bend ISD, a nine-year-old autistic student was repeatedly imprisoned in a closed filing cabinet by her special-ed teacher.

The same, now former educator at Juan Seguin Elementary stands accused of kicking, striking and verbally abusing other disabled kids.

The classroom had no camera.
Read more:


Amanda Penny

Thank you for posting this article. The child in this article (Hailey) is my sister, so this hits home for me. We need to really (and realistically) spread awareness of this issue. This happens more often than you think, especially to special needs children.



I think that safety is an important and critical issue in our community and that different viewpoints on complicated issues like this one deserve a hearing and respect. I also think many have strong views based on personal knowledge and experience but relying on those is not usually an effective strategy when trying to change policy. Many people like their childs school placement and dont want an invasive camera installed. I don't think the camera argument I hear is good and I don't think it stands a chance of being put in place on a widespread basis. We can agree to disagree on classrooms but my view on transport recording is not an inconsistency and is a policy that does enjoy broad support. Transport involves students away from the school facilities where student and staff activities are guided by written enforceable codes and policy, including minimum training standards. That's a big difference.


I just spoke with a friend of mine this afternoon who has a severely autistic 22 year old daughter. She reminded me of the fact that autistic children normally cannot defend themselves during court proceedings because they are normally deemed incompetent to do so.

Further, she relayed two separate incidents involving her daughter which occurred several years ago; each of those incidents could have been handled much differently had there been cameras in the classroom (something she definitely feels should be done).

I would hazard a guess and state that with all the media stories regarding abuse of autistic children in our school systems, many of them go unreported, for various reasons. Big Pharma cannot and will not police themselves; the same holds true for our school districts. They won't do it.

Our son - who simply had learning issues - was placed into a special day class in middle school as a resource program, a program we were told was the only program available for him at that time. Turns out, THEY LIED.

When we asked what the issues were with regards the other students, we were told they couldn't tell us because of HIPPA regulations. That was utter nonsense; we weren't asking for names of students - we just wanted to know what the various issues were with the rest of the students. They wouldn't provide us with that information.

Soon, however, our son came home and started telling us just what was going on in this program. We were appalled to find out he'd been put into a special day class when, right through a connecting door to his room was another resource program in another room - another resource program! What do you know about that! A resource program we were told during our son's IEP - didn't exist. That room was filled with some 22 students who had the same type learning issues our son had.

After threats from our district's attorney, who called my home and stated we needed to put our son back into this program because 'it was good for him, I proceeded to sign our son out of school during that last period of the day (I knew he had enough day credits by that time of day so as not to be considered truant). Finally, we were able to arrange for our son to be placed into the more appropriate resource program, with the help of our son's Principal.

Our son ended up doing beautifully in that program. That program was the start of the turn-around for our son. We were able to eventually exit him out of special education altogether a few years ago. He just graduated this summer with a 4.0 GPA.

Do you think for one moment this district would have placed our son into a special day class had there been cameras in that room? I don't think so. As it was, I made an appointment with the principal of that school and sat in on that classroom and OBSERVED. EVERYTHING our son told us about that program was dead on the mark.

Afterwards, we were told by an insider within the district that we had been retaliated against because of our advocacy for our son. To our further dismay, we further found that this was typical behavior on the district's part. Sound familiar?

I have absolutely nothing but the utmost and profound respect for parents who are dealing with autistic issues. Our son certainly typified many of the behavioral issues I've heard and read about throughout these years, when he was younger. I honestly don't know how you all do it.

I know the living hell we went through with our son's issues. I can only imagine what it must be like for most of the parents here on this board. But after witnessing what our school district did to us, I can only imagine what happens in other districts.

Nothing in this world is perfect and while I certainly have a distaste for allowing cameras into classrooms, until we have a society that evolves into something other than what we have now, I can see no other option of choice.

Just as most of the vaccine reactions suffered by thousands goes literally unreported, I would imagine the same holds true for the abuse of our children in our school systems (and in other sectors of our society as well). Systemic abuse IS rampant in many sectors of our society, as much as we may not want to believe that. Cameras may not be the end all, be all as a fix for this issue, but I can count numerous occasions in our own district where it certainly would have helped.

Carolyn M


The scenario that you describe (teacher getting "in the face" of a student and the student lashing out, injuring the teacher) could just as easily happen on a bus (or other form of student transportation). Yet you are in favor of cameras on buses. This appears to be a very inconsistent position.

Your previously stated "solution" of "robust supervisory policies including random classroom checks and proactive solicitation of parent/caregiver feedback" is not viable. In effect, you are stating that schools should be left to police themselves - ie. just trust them to punish abusers. The news reports - such as those quoted by bayareamom and other reports which AoA has linked to - indicate that this is not happening. In addition, please note that these are just the stories that made it into the media; there are very likely many more that did not.

Also, while there are exceptions, public schools in general do not value parental input from parents of special education students. I am not just stating that this is true at the (individual parent) micro level - it is also true at the macro level. This can be demonstrated by what happened a few years ago in my state regarding the (then) proposed changes to the special education regulations. When the proposed changes were published, educators stated that the changes would "streamline the process" and improve it. What the changes amounted to was to very greatly decrease the parents' voice in their child(ren)'s education - they were "streamlining" the parents into only being able to agree with whatever the school personnel wanted regarding the child(ren). When you value someone's contribution, you do not reduce it in this manner.

You also stated that you would "want to prosecute to the fullest extent possible". The problem with that is that you have to have absolutely ironclad evidence in order to do so. Without cameras, what evidence would you be able to produce? The school personnel are not going to testify for you. Bruises and other injuries are not sufficient in and of themselves - the school personnel can always deny that they occurred at school; they can easily say that the child had the injury when he/she arrived at school. Finally, if you raised "a huge media ruckus" without ironclad evidence of abuse by school personnel, it could well backfire on you (negative consequences might include a lawsuit by the school, its personnel, or both).

I do not like the idea of cameras in the classroom either, but something has to be done about this problem. If you have a solution other than the schools policing themselves, I would appreciate hearing about it.



I'm sorry you feel my 'arguments' are not persuasive to your point of view, but I stand by my comments. You've made a number of comments which I feel could use more explanation regarding your point of view.

For example, you stated,"If I don't have control over the content and timing of the surveillance, I don't want it to take place."

Why the issue with control? What are your fears as regards YOUR control of the content and timing of the surveillance?

To me, if I were a teacher in a classroom and the student was, as you've stated above, 'having a bad day,' and I got punched because of it, I would WANT that on videotape for my own protection. Playing devil's advocate here, but punching a teacher because a student's having a bad day, is STILL punching a teacher. I realize the mitigating circumstances here, really I do. But that behavior is unacceptable and at some level, either through better behavioral management with an aide, or what have you, may help in preventing further occurrences. It would seem to me that a taped occurrence would help serve the best interests of both the teacher and the student in the type scenario you've outlined above. If the tape shows the offending punch to the teacher, that same tape is certainly going to depict ALL the occurrences that led to the incident to begin with.

Like it or not, there are indeed those parents who will blame the teachers or aides for an incident when they don't have verified proof. Those cameras will ensure protection for ALL parties involved.


Bayareamom - Your dedication to protecting our kids is totally admirable but your arguments (and others) for classroom surveillance are unpersuasive.

If it was my kid who was abused I would want to prosecute to the fullest extent possible and raise a huge media ruckus...I think most people would...but it wouldn't change my views on cameras in the classroom. If I don't have control over the content and timing of the surveillance, I don't want it to take place. Any taping of my child (and there's been plenty) is at my discretion for the uses I deem appropriate (generally therapy evaluation from time to time or participation in extracurricular or fundraising events, etc).

Consider this scenario, which is far from farfetched. Camera in classroom. High school level. Kid with autism having a "bad day". Teacher or aide "gets in their face". Kid physically lashes out to get away (fight or flight responses are NOT rare in our community and HS kids are big and strong). Kid breaks teacher's nose. All on tape. For whatever reason, and there could be plenty not involving the immediate incident or kid, teacher or aide presses assault charges (it's their right). School turns over evidence on tape without a peep. DA running for reelection refuses to cut deal. Kid convicted by jury who doesn't know squat about autism in courtroom administered by judge who doesn't either. Antecedent to behavior? Bad teaching techinques? Mitigating circumstances? Hogwash, the jury says, we don't care, the tape doesn't lie, the kid assaulted the teacher! Best case? Criminal record. Worst case? Lockup. Without the tape? Plenty more wiggle room for lawyer to explore circumstances. Taping can cut both ways. Autism doesn't always involve small, easily redirected children.

As a safety advocate, I've presented to a bunch of juvenile probation officers. Autism is plenty prevalent in their caseloads and throughout the justice system and the "justice" meted out is pretty awful. The above scenario isn't some hard to imagine series of events.

The reason I strongly support cameras in any tranportation vehicles for special ed students (versus in their classrooms) is that they are "in the community", not school grounds, and are generally contracted out to total non professionals.

I also think cameras can easily create a hostile environment and produce data that neither the teachers nor the kids they instruct (or families) "own". The school owns it and can do with it whatever they please. It can be used for or against students families and teachers or to promote policies you may oppose. That's too many variables and too much power for me to agree to give away.

PS '06 '07 school year = 6,000,000 special ed students nationally. The stats say 250K w/autism but I think that's grossly understated. Even at 250k, the number of actual incidents of abuse do not constitute anything like a "trend". Horrible stuff (especially the most horrible) gets the media amplification effect.

A couple of far more critical safety steps families and people with autism should do first before worrying about classroom safety are 1)help the person with an ASD acquire swimming skills, no matter how rudimentary (drowning = #1 cause of accidental death in people w/ ASD's) 2) register basic info with your local 911 database and carry an info card with you at all times 3) tailor your premises to individual needs (ex elopers need robust security) and 4) keep a safety checklist handy at all times (medical issues medications/preferences/dietary restrictions etc)


Natalie, I couldn't agree with you more.

Natalie Clancy

As I bus driver of a bus with a camera I can attest that it does nothing to interfere with the operation of the bus. I can see no reason why it would interfere with work in the class room. Many times, cameras have worked to show inappropriate behavior on the part of students, monitors and drivers. All verbal and written reports are subjective. Only the camera reveals the objective view. Much can be learned by recording what goes on in the class room. Objections to cameras in the classroom are likely based on a concern by teachers that they have more to lose than to gain. Parents should continue to push for this. In an atmosphere where control and power over the powerless can be easily abused without fear of retribution, recording the behavior is a certain way to make schools accountable. Tenure needs to be done away with. I can't think of any other profession where ones job is protected based on the length of time it is held. The philosophy inaccurately tries to employ the value of experience over outcome which should be based on student/parent reviews, test scores and curriculum weighed together.


All I did was Google, "Teachers and aides abuse autistic students," and I came up with a slew of (appalling) links:


SNIP: ..."The DOE has released the list of its employees being disciplined. The 4 teachers are protected by tenure (and are being reassigned pending dismissal proceedings)..."



..." the attorney representing the Schillings, said that since news of the charges...were made public, several other families in the school district who have children with special needs have come forward with claims of alleged abuse, some against the same two teacher's aides."



The list just goes on and on. I don't even begin to profess to have all the answers, but this type of abuse has become more than 'just a rarity.'

There are a slew of reasons I can come up with as to why this is becoming more than a trend, but there isn't enough space (or time), to address the issues.


..."It is my experience that public school administrators will support the teacher over the parents. I do not believe that they will voluntarily "put in robust supervisory policies including random classroom checks and proactive solicitation of parent/caregiver feedback" - they will most likely have to be forced to do so. Any record of such feedback is unlikely to be taken seriously or followed up on - again, unless the school personnel are in some manner compelled to do so."

This has been our experience in our school district as well. I would dare say it's probably more the rule, than not. The circle the wagons mentality, rules...honesty and forthrightness, unfortunately, do not.


Well, abuse of a child in a classroom MAY be rare (and I'm not so sure that it is), but if it's YOUR child, then how would you feel? That's the same argument we all give when it comes to vaccine injuries. The odds are rare (they say) that your child will will suffer with a vaccine reaction, but if your child does succumb to vaccine injury, the odds are now 100%...FOR YOUR CHILD.

I have to say that I agree with Bob Moffitt on this one. I've heard of abuse in our own school district here in San Ramon, and yes - allegedly - the abusive aide/teacher was absolved of any wrongdoing and continues to teach to this day. (Note: Allegedly, a special ed teacher was accused of putting duct-tape on a non-verbal student and locking said student in a closet for a number of hours.)

I don't like surveillance, but in this case, where defenseless, innocent children are being abused, I would say the children's safety comes first, above and beyond the privacy concerns of the teachers.

..."Abuse should never be tolerated or swept under the rug. Criminal prosecution is the appropriate path for those who engage in it..."

The above statements are true, but the fact is, that abuse IS tolerated and IS swept under the rug, more often than not. Criminal prosecution is appropriate, but again, unless one can prove that these types of abuses occur, then prosecution goes out the window and the abuser stays in the classroom.

Dadvocate: How would you feel if the child being abused, was one of your own? When you state, "A single instance is too often but if one considers the number of students/classrooms nationally, classroom abuse is a relatively rare issue," let's put that into perspective:

You can use this same argument as to the reason we've all been here, commenting, at this site. Although many children have suffered vaccine reactions, many have not and appear (appear being the operative word here), to be doing quite well. Until you start really seeing those numbers rising exponentially, we still fall into that small minority.

Haven't we been proponents of safety first when it comes to vaccines? Shouldn't this same argument hold true for safety first in the classroom as well?

Abuse in any form, shouldn't be happening anywhere, much less in our public school rooms. Just as the parent of the child in the article that was referenced has stated, "If I were to have committed this type abuse on my child, or on any other child, I would be hauled off to jail. If a teacher commits this abuse, what's the difference?

Further, if teachers are doing nothing more than they're supposed to be doing in a classroom, why the issue with having video cameras in the classroom? If, as Bob states, you are doing your job in the manner in which it is to be done, cameras can be in your best interest.

Carolyn M

Camera obscura is correct that if you do not have "rock solid evidence" of abuse, then you will be told you have no case. Your child can come home every day from school with bruises that get bigger and bigger, and it will not matter. You can ask for an explanation repeatedly and receive no real explanation, and it will not matter. You will be unable to take them to court unless - at a minimum - you can prove "willful negligence".

Also, vans and buses are not the only vehicles used to transport special education students. In some instances, school districts (or possibly the county, I'm not completely sure which) may have contracts with private taxi firms. For these students, there will only be an aide along if it is so specified in the child's IEP - otherwise, it will just be the student and a taxi driver. Given this situation, what do you do about requiring cameras? It would have to be written into the local governmental agency's contract with the taxi firm - and how are you going to get them to do that? (Please note that I am for cameras, I am merely pointing out a problem.)

It is my experience that public school administrators will support the teacher over the parents. I do not believe that they will voluntarily "put in robust supervisory policies including random classroom checks and proactive solicitation of parent/caregiver feedback" - they will most likely have to be forced to do so. Any record of such feedback is unlikely to be taken seriously or followed up on - again, unless the school personnel are in some manner compelled to do so.

Birgit Calhoun

The use of cameras anywhere smells like police state. When a camera is present it causes a chilling effect on education. That is my first reaction. But there are other reasons why a camera would not be an effective tool to prevent abuse.

Let's say there were a camera in the classroom. Would the camera point at all the corners in the classroom or in the broom closet? It would not. As soon as there is knowledge of a camera, the perpetrator would find ways to do the abuse away from the eye of the camera. It would not prevent abuse. It would more likely hide it.

It is important that there is no abuse. But it has to be a matter of conscience to learn better ways to treat any child.

Skills For Autism

I'm not sure if it's just cameras that are needed to protect our children. These teachers just don't have the right educations or curriculum's to educate children on the spectrum. What these school's really need is a comprehensive program detailed out to help teach children on the spectrum. They need Skills. To learn more about Skills go to:

CT teacher

I'm going to weigh in with dadvocate on this one. It is a sticky wicket indeed , involving not only who controls the info, but it presents a problem with individual freedom ( the teachers'). These videos could be used by administrators against teachers in many ways that are detrimental to the teaching profession, which is already under attack by many right wing groups. The buses, however, need monitoring. Student behavior, as well as adult supervision, should be available for scrutiny.

camera obscura

Something has to give. The DOE has carved out way too much power for itself and its internal system of justice is designed to discourage families from coming forward and as a gatekeeper to prevent reports from reaching law enforcement...which won't do anything anyway. Without cameras and rock solid evidence, if you disabled child-- or even typical child-- is abused in school, you will be told by every legal authority, from child services to private attorneys to police, that you have no case. If you have no case, then the school views each attempt you make to advocate for your child as an excuse to mete out more retaliation and abuse on your child and family. If you swat the wasp without killing it, you risk provoking the whole hive. Without cameras, we can't kill it.


As a longtime safety advocate, I have some observations and views on this that I'd like to share. It's a serious and complicated topic and opposition to cameras doesn't mean those folks condone abuse.

Personally, I think advocating for cameras in classrooms is overkill (and wrongheaded) and ultimately holds back the effort to get surveillance where it's most needed, for example, on ALL school contracted transportation that special ed students take. Far too many incidents occur that involve special ed students, bus aides, and drivers...most untrained in much of anything, especially autism safety. Getting cameras on the bus/van makes sense on many many levels. In the classroom? I don't think so.
I believe most teachers, administrators, and many parents don't want cameras in classrooms, special ed or otherwise, for very good reasons that are much different than opposition to bus surveillance (which mostly revolves around cost.) Classroom recording (especially involving students who may not be able to immediately consent) raises very knotty issues of individual control over personal privacy (student or teacher), when/who is recording one's activities and who ultimately "owns" that data, and how the collected data can be used or disseminated.
Surveillance beyond typical school physical security (exits, entrances, main common areas) is incredibly invasive and the budget and manpower necessary to manage the massive amount of information collected throughout each and every school day in every classroom is not doable for most school districts. Creating uniform or standard policies re this data in very diverse school districts across the country is also a nightmare waiting to happen.
What if your kid is in a classroom, you personally want recording and another parent (like me) doesn't, due to concerns about who owns that recording and how it can be used? It's a bigger issue than some advocates would like to believe. Cut and dried it ain't.
Abuse should never be tolerated or swept under the rug. Criminal prosecution is the appropriate path for those who engage in it. A single instance is too often but if one considers the number of students/classroooms nationally, classroom abuse is a relatively rare issue. Serious and criminal, but rare. Seclusion and restraint issues are a lot more common but are themselves nuanced and sometimes necessary to protect students and others from possible harm to self or others (but always need to be engaged in correctly by supervised and trained staff).
If administrators put in robust supervisory policies including random classroom checks and proactive solicitation of parent/caregiver feedback, I think that would go a long way to keeping classrooms safe without installing cameras. But again, those cameras need to be on special ed busses and vans, which all operate beyond the school campus...yesterday!


Another suggestion is we need Camera's inside of the Pharma Harma boardrooms and inside these ruling think tanks (Bildeburg Group) to find out what other nasty chemical tricks they have up their sleeves for us .
We all need to go back to school and study chemistry to beat these conniving so and so's .

Bob Moffitt

Common sense would suggest that cameras in a school's classroom would PROTECT THE PRINCIPALS, TEACHERS AND AIDES from unsubstantiated allegations of child abuse .. as much as ensure the protection of the children in their care.

I suspect many police officers strongly objected to mounting video cameras on their dashboards .. yet .. over the years .. many of those same police officers eventually learned to be grateful to have the video evidence to deny what were once easily contrived false allegations made against them.

If you are doing your job the way it is supposed to be done .. cameras are in your best interest.

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