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A Texas law requires school districts and public charter schools to place video cameras in certain self-contained special education classrooms and settings upon request from a parent, staff member, principal, or school board. This law is intended to protect students who, because of a disability, might not be able to report abuse or neglect by district employees or other students.
In this handout, we answer questions parents might have about how to request a camera in a special education classroom. The handout explains what the law does, what options are available under it, and how to use it. We also provide sample letters for parents to use to ask for a camera and to view a video recording.
How does the law work?
A parent (which includes a guardian or other person who has a parental relation to a student and adult students who receive special education services in the setting) may request in writing for the district to install video and audio recording equipment in a self-contained classroom or other special education setting. The school must respond to this request not later than the seventh school business day after receipt of the request and, if the request is granted, install the camera within a certain period.
The camera will record at all times during the instructional day when one or more students are present. The district must save the recordings but only for a limited amount of time. If an incident is alleged, certain people can request access to view the recording.
What sorts of classrooms are eligible for cameras?
The law allows for cameras to be requested in “self-contained classroom[s] or other special education setting[s].” The law defines this as a room, including a separate room used for time-out, in which a majority of students who regularly attend class in the room are provided special education and are assigned to this sort of setting for at least 50 percent of the school day.
A resource room arrangement does not meet the definition of a self-contained classroom, although students who attend resource rooms for part of the school day may also be educated in a self-contained classroom eligible for surveillance.
How do I request a camera in my child’s classroom?
A parent must submit a written request to the principal or a person the principal has designated to receive these requests. Districts are required to have policies related to placing cameras in self-contained classrooms, which may specify some requirements for submitting a request. Some districts provide their own form for requesting a camera (see information about sample letter below).
State law requires that the district respond to a request within seven school business days. This answer must either authorize the request or provide reasons for a denial.
If the school grants the request, it must begin operating the camera within 45 school business days (or the first school day after 45 school business days if school hasn’t started yet) unless the Texas Education Agency (TEA) grants an extension. If a parent makes a request for a camera in the classroom for the following school year, the district must place the camera by the 10th school day of the semester, or 45 school business days after the request was made, whichever comes last.
If the school refuses your request for a camera or does not respond within the required time, you have the right to appeal (see information about appealing denied requests below).
What will the camera record?
The recording must include video and audio of all areas of the classroom, including rooms used for time-out. However, the inside of a bathroom or any area in which a student’s clothes are changed cannot be visually monitored.
How long will the camera be in place?
After a district installs a camera, it must operate and maintain the camera for the remainder of the school year if the classroom continues to meet the criteria for recording, unless the person who requested the camera withdraws that request in writing. If the school intends to stop operating the camera during the school year, it must notify every parent whose child attends school in the classroom at least five school days before ending recordings. At least ten school days before the end of the school year, the school must notify parents of children in the recorded room that the operation of the camera won’t continue unless an eligible person sends in a new request for the next school year.
What does the school do with the recordings?
The law only allows video and audio recordings to be used for the safety of students receiving special education services in self-contained classrooms. Videos are confidential and cannot be released or viewed unless related to an alleged incident or investigation.
The district is required to retain recordings for at least three months. Unless someone has raised an allegation, the district may delete the recording after three months. If a person requests to view a recording, the district has to retain the recording until the requestor has viewed it and a determination has been made as to whether the video documents an incident. If the recording does document an incident, the district has to retain the recording until the incident has been resolved and all appeals have been exhausted.
How can I gain access to a recording?
If a parent suspects that a child has been abused or neglected in a monitored classroom or setting, then he or she should first submit a written incident report as soon as possible. Either with or following the incident report, you should submit a written request for release of the recording for viewing.
Districts are required to have a process for the reporting of incidents. Ask your district if it has forms to report an incident and request access to the recording. If it doesn’t have a process or forms, you should send your own incident report and request to view the recording to the school principal and the district superintendent (see information about sample letter below). In both documents, it’s important to state why you suspect abuse or neglect and when you suspect it happened. The recording you want to watch and listen to can be from a specific date or a reasonable period of time, such as a particular week.
If the district asserts that an incident did not occur, that does not negate your right to view the video (see information about appealing denied requests below). Please note that this camera procedure is separate from a public information request. You can ask the district for the recording directly without going through open records request procedures.
What can I do if the district denies my request for a camera in the classroom or refuses to release a video for viewing that I have requested?
You must first raise any complaints and appeals over a district decision through the district’s local grievance procedures. Districts usually post grievance procedures on their websites.
After parents have gone through the local process and received a final denial, they can then appeal the denial to TEA by filing a petition for review. You must file the petition with TEA within 10 calendar days of receiving word about the district’s final decision.
Parents can also request TEA to conduct an expedited review of a district decision to deny a request for the installation of a camera and a district decision to deny a request to release a video. The TEA expedited review happens while you are still using the local grievance process. TEA timelines for an expedited review are short so you must act quickly. TEA will give both the district and parent an initial determination once completing the expedited review. However, you must still pursue the local appeal and TEA petition for review, if necessary, to obtain a final determination that adopts the initial determination by TEA.
There may be times when a school does not have a process or forms for making requests or reporting incidents. In those cases, you can use our sample letters. If a camera is not already in place, you can use our Request a Camera for a Special Education Classroom Sample Letter. For situations where a camera is already in place in a special education classroom and you believe an incident has occurred, you can use our Report an Incident and Request a Recording Sample Letter.
 You can find the law at Tex. Educ. Code Ann. § 29.022. Regulations issued by TEA spell out details at 19 Tex. Admin. Code §§ 103.1301 and 103.1303.
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Disclaimer: Disability Rights Texas strives to update its materials on an annual basis, and this handout is based upon the law at the time it was written. The law changes frequently and is subject to various interpretations by different courts. Future changes in the law may make some information in this handout inaccurate.
The handout is not intended to and does not replace an attorney’s advice or assistance based on your particular situation.
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