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KFOX14Investigates: Law says parents must request cameras in special ed classrooms

A state law requiring cameras in special-need classrooms went into effect this school year, but many classrooms in the borderland still don't have them.

That's a fact one mom said she only learned after an incident with her son at his school in the Socorro Independent School District.

“He’s always smiling, he’s a happy kid,” said Aracely Davila about her son, Julian, who suffered from seizures as a baby. Since then, he's faced mental and developmental challenges.

Now an eighth grader at Sanchez Middle School, Julian doesn't talk and is unable to care for himself.

“He doesn’t even say mom. He’s never said mom,” Davila said.

In October, Davila said she received a call about an incident at Julian’s school.

Two teachers reported a special-needs aide grabbed Julian by the wrists, dragged him and then kicked him to get him to stand up.

The district started an investigation.

Davila said when police interviewed Julian, he showed them what happened. Davila said when the police asked what the man did to Julian, he grabbed his own wrists to show them.

“I said, ‘he doesn’t talk but he’s telling you they hurt him and put their hands on him,’” Davila said.

Davila asked if there was video evidence.

“ I said, ‘Is there a camera? Is there video? Something?’ and they said, ‘We don’t have any,’” Davila saud.

That's when Davila learned the new law requires either that a parent, staff member or board member must request the cameras.

The district tells KFOX14Investigates the staff member no longer works at SISD.

Last year, there was another incident.

“They left him with feces all the way up to his neck for three hours before they called to tell me to go change him. The feces were already dry on him. They had him going to physicial education and going to lunch, dragging him around like that. He doesn’t talk but I’m pretty sure he was embarrassed.

Davila said that teacher doesn’t work with the district any more, either.

“These are the kinds of things that shouldn't be happening. It's crazy to think that you send your child to the school to have someone take care of them and they aren’t doing that,” Davila said.

The camera law was intended to protect special-needs students since many, like Julian, cannot speak for themselves.

Now districts across Texas are working on putting it into action.

“It was a safety bill to promote the safety of our students, the safety of our kids and our staff,” said Richard Ortega, the director of Special Education in SISD.

Following the second incident with Julian and his mom’s request, SISD said Sanchez Middle became the first campus with a camera inside a special-needs classroom.

There's also audio in the bathroom.

In all, the district tells KFOX14 Investigates, it has cameras in three special-needs classrooms.

It will install more cameras upon request.

Ortega said the district has about 70 classrooms that would qualify for the cameras.

In September, the attorney general ruled just one request should prompt a district to install cameras in all special-needs classrooms district wide.

But the attorney general acknowledged that might not be feasible right away for larger districts.

Lawmakers are expected to fine tune the law this session.

For now, SISD has set aside $500,000 for cameras and storage.

The footage has to be kept for six months.

But the video can only be viewed if there’s an allegation of abuse or neglect.

“I think the misconception is that anybody can go and look at the recording; it’s not live monitored. Nobody is sitting and watching behind a desktop computer,” Ortega said.

Davila said the cameras give her some relief, even though there might not be a need to watch the footage.

She says Julian's current teacher is excellent.

“She is a very, very, good teacher; we are very happy,”

Davila said, adding that she'll make sure there are camera's in Julian’s classroom when he heads to high school next year.

But she'd like to see it go further and see cameras in the hallway and the library.

“I’m hoping more parents will speak to their principals about cameras in the classroom,” Davilasaid.

KFOX14Investigates reached out to other districts to find out how they are handling installing the cameras.

Ysleta ISD said it is also installing cameras based on request.

Clint ISD said its approach is also to wait for parents to request the equipment. However, 15 cameras and four microphones have been installed at 2 campuses, Horizon High School and East Montana Middle School, at a cost of $19,000.

El Paso ISD and Canutillo ISD did not respond to KFOX14Investigates’ request.

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