Push to aid special education students with classroom cameras nears finish line | Legislature

A Senate-passed bill aimed at paving the way for cameras in Louisiana’s classrooms most affected special education students neared final approval Wednesday when it was endorsed by the House Education Committee.

The measure, Senate Bill 45, cleared the committee without objection after several mothers pleaded with the panel to act on behalf of children with Down’s Syndrome, autism and other ailments.

“We have to take action to protect our children,” said Eileen Jorgenson, who lives in Ascension Parish and has a 10-year-old daughter with special needs.

The proposal, by Sen. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, would require school districts by Dec. 31 to have policies in place for the installation of cameras in the classrooms of about 9,000 children once funds are available.

“Most of them can’t talk,” Foil said of the students who would benefit.

“Unfortunately there have been some instances where we believe the cameras would protect the children and the teachers.”

The cameras would cost about $ 6 million.

Senate leaders in March directed officials of the state Department of Education to find funding for the cameras, especially amid a $ 4 billion injection of federal funds to public schools because of the pandemic coronavirus.

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State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley struck out in his first bid to get federal permission to use some of those dollars to pay for the cameras.

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Sandra Guichard, who lives in Covington, told the committee she has two children with special needs – Down’s Syndrome and autism.

Guichard said her family believes her daughter was abused at school for 18 months, which resulted in a personality change and a lack of interest in attending school.

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“They were horrible to her, they were mean to her all day,” she told lawmakers.

“I think they were force feeding her for months. Cameras would have helped reassure us that things were going smoothly.”

Foil noted that his bill does not mandate the installation of cameras but only to have policies in place for when funds become available.

He said similar legislation he sponsored last year that became law failed to get all the school districts to enact camera policies.

“This closes the loophole,” Foil said.

Jodi Rollins, who lives in Prairieville, is the mother of children ages 12 and 13 who are nonverbal and who attend self-contained classes.

Rollins told the committee trying to get state and local educators to recognize and act on the problem has been beyond frustrating.

“I know a lot of you don’t know what it’s like to be powerless,” she told lawmakers. “But it’s not a good feeling.”

“I am asking you not only to pass this, and I know you probably will, but when the funding comes up please vote for it. Please gives us a way to hold them accountable.”

Rep. Chuck Owen, R-Leesville and a member of the committee, said his wife is a special education teacher.

“I am grieved for you that you have to put up with this,” Owen told the mothers who testified.

The bill, which won Senate approval 38-0, next faces action in the full House for a possible final vote.

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