Parents whose students were part of the Killeen Independent School District’s special education program marked it as a victory when the district installed and activated cameras in four special education classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year.
That victory may have been short-lived.
Some local special education parents say they still have trouble getting the cameras set up in their student’s classrooms after the request is submitted. Most special education parents will find they have to jump hurdles to view the videos.
Texas Senate Bill 507 — which became law in 2015 and went into effect in August 2016 — allows cameras to be placed in special education classrooms if a parent requests it.
Nadine Fuller requested and received approval for a camera for her daughter’s special education classroom at Nolanville Elementary for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. But viewing the footage was a challenge.
What she doesn’t understand is why KISD policy allows police officers, school nurses, district administrators, teachers and human resources staff designated by the KISD board access to the video recordings made in special education classrooms, but often not the parents.
“Why can these people view the video, but parents can’t?” Fuller said.
Angela Garvin approached Cavazos Principal Joseph Gullekson with a request to view classroom video after her son, Marcus, started refusing to go to school last spring.
“Something had obviously happened,” Garvin said. She didn’t know what.
Requests from parents who wish to view video from the special education classrooms is covered under an eight-page KISD policy originally issued November 2016 and updated September 2017. It is titled “Self-Contained Classroom Video/Audio Surveillance Request Procedure” and is posted on the district’s website.
Parents who wish to view video from the special education classrooms are instructed in that policy, “A person may notify the District of an Alleged Incident occurring in a Self-contained Classroom or Other Special Education Setting where video/audio surveillance is in effect by completing an Incident Report form and providing it to the campus principal.”
The KISD policy continues, “The Incident Report form may be obtained from the Students and Parents Resource tab on the Killeen Independent School District web page.”
The form is not easy to locate. In the Students and Parents section of the KISD web page, a long list of options are listed on the left side of the screen, not in alphabetical order. It is necessary to click on the “Special Education Update” selection, once found on that list.
Parents are advised in the policy, “The person making the Incident Report should be as specific as possible regarding the date, time, and location of the Alleged Incident, should include any witnesses, and should describe the suspected incident as clearly as possible.”
There are time constraints for filing an incident report, the policy states. “The Incident Report should be provided to the campus principal as soon as possible, and if at all possible within 48 hours after the reporter becomes aware of an Alleged Incident.”
The KISD policy lists the procedure for responding to incident reports, as well.
Within seven days, “the campus principal or authorized designee will coordinate with one or more eligible person(s) to schedule a time and location for them to view the recording of the Alleged Incident to determine whether the recording contains evidence of abuse or neglect.”
That evidence is defined in the Texas Family Code, according to the policy, and could involve abusive behavior of a district employee toward a student, or of a student by another student.
If the incident report fails to indicate such behavior as defined by the Texas Family Code, “the District will provide written notice to the person making the report that the allegations on the Incident Report form do not set forth an Alleged Incident.”
The district has three school business days to make this notification after district personnel view the video, per the policy.
In other words, KISD employees will view the video once an incident is reported, and they will determine whether the parents can view the video.
That determination is supposed to be made according to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, as the policy reads.
This means, if the KISD employees determine the video depicts abuse or “a significant act involving the student,” it is considered an educational record, and may be viewed by the parents “upon making an appointment.”
If the video does not depict such behavior, “access to view the recording will not be provided,” the policy reads.
KISD considers the video recordings by cameras in special education classrooms as confidential, and “will not allow regular or continual monitoring of video/audio recordings.”
Garvin’s request to view video from her son’s special education classroom was denied on the grounds she didn’t cite a specific incident, per the KISD surveillance request policy.
After Garvin’s request was denied, she asked for an ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) meeting at Cavazos. She recalled how KISD personnel told her they could be trusted to ensure proper care of her son.
“I don’t trust anybody,” Garvin said. “I don’t trust the school district.”
Later, in a conversation which Garvin audio recorded, Gullekson acknowledged there had been an incident involving Marcus.
Garvin said she has never been allowed to view the video of that incident.
The KISD surveillance request policy does not include an appeals process for parents whose requests to view video from their child’s special education classroom are denied. The only way a copy of such a video can be obtained is for the parents to file legal proceedings.
Garvin opted not to pursue legal proceedings.
As of Oct. 12, nine KISD campuses have cameras in self-contained special education classrooms for this school year, according to Terry Abbott, chief communications officer for the district. Two requests are pending, awaiting the installation of the necessary cabling.
When asked to provide the number of requests from parents, approved or denied, to view video from the four cameras installed in special education classrooms last school year, and so far this school year, Abbott responded, “The request regarding the video reviews from 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 is going to require extensive school by school research.”
He provided no estimate of when the information would be available.
When asked whether KISD has received any requests from parents to revise the policy which would allow parents greater access to video recordings made in special education classrooms, Abbott responded, “Not that I’ve been made aware of.”
Proposed changes to KISD’s policy on special education video/audio monitoring are scheduled to be discussed at Tuesday’s KISD board workshop, which will be held at 6 p.m. at the administrative office, 200 N. W.S. Young Drive.
Some concerns also remain with requesting a camera.
The KISD surveillance request policy states that cameras may be approved if a special education student “will be served in a Self-contained Classroom(s) or Other Special Education Setting(s) the following year, for at least 50% of the day.”
Garvin submitted this year’s request for a camera in her son Marcus’ classroom at Cavazos Elementary on Aug. 17, 2017. According to the KISD “Self-Contained Classroom Video/Audio Request Form,” available on the KISD website, “Within seven (7) school business days from receipt of the Request for Installation form, the campus principal or Designated District Coordinator, as applicable, will provide a written response to the requestor.”
Garvin said she didn’t receive a response from Gullekson until mid-September.
The letter dated Sept. 15 confirmed a camera had been in operation in her son’s classroom since Aug. 21.
Melissa Velasquez’s daughter, Sienna, attended Trimmier Elementary during the 2016-2017 school year as part of the special education program.
Velasquez said she submitted a form requesting a camera in her daughter’s pre-kindergarten classroom, after trying to piece together some incidents that had occurred.
Sienna doesn’t talk that well, Velasquez said, and she wanted to keep track of what was happening.
Sienna’s teacher contacted Velasquez after the camera request was received at Trimmier. The teacher admitted to feeling Velasquez didn’t trust her.
“I trust you guys,” Velasquez told the teacher.
After that conversation, the school never contacted Velasquez to follow up with her camera request, and a camera was never installed in Sienna’s classroom.
According to KISD records, Velasquez never submitted the required form.
“The camera was not installed in her child’s classroom because she failed to submit a request for installation of a camera,” Abbott said.