Public Comment — to TEA related to Video Surveillance of Certain Education Settings Rules

 

Via email: rules@tea.texas.gov

May 2, 2016

Ms. Cristina De La Fuente-Valadez
Rulemaking
Texas Education Agency
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78701

RE: Comments on Proposed Rules, Title 19, Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 103, Health and Safety, Subchapter DD, Commissioner’s Rules Concerning Video Surveillance of Certain Special Education Settings

Dear Ms. De La Fuente-Valadez:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on proposed §103.1301, which implements §29.022 of the Texas Education Code, as added by Senate Bill (SB) 507, 84th Texas Legislature.

These comments are submitted on behalf of The Arc of Texas, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, and Disability Rights Texas.

Please feel free to contact us at the telephone numbers and email addresses provided below if you would like to discuss any of these comments further. We would welcome meeting with staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to discuss or clarify our comments:

  • Kyle Piccola, The Arc of Texas, 512-454-6694, kpiccola@thearcoftexas.org
  • Chris Masey, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, 512-680-6314, cmasey@txdisabilities.org
  • Linda Logan, Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, 512-437-5430, linda.logan@tcdd.texas.gov
  • Steven Aleman, Disability Rights Texas, 512-454-4816, saleman@disabilityrightstx.org

§103.1301(b) Definitions
Subsection (b), as proposed, defines key terms utilized in video surveillance of self-contained special education classrooms and settings.

Comments: We recommend that parents and students would benefit from a revision of the definition of the term “parent” to include anyone who meets that definition under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA includes a definition of the term parent for the purpose of special education. The state’s definition of parent should include a person who meets the definition of parent under the IDEA.1

We recommend that for the benefit of parents and students, the definition of the term “staff member” should be revised to include all school employees and contractors of the campus at which a self-contained classroom or other special education setting is located within the district or charter school. The purpose of video surveillance to safeguard and protect students with disabilities, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse, assault, and injury. Any school employee, contractor, volunteer, or other person on the campus who might be in position to witness or learn of conditions in a particular room that warrant such surveillance is empowered and required to make a report consistent with the Texas Family Code provisions in §261.101, Persons Required to Report; Time to Report, which requires in subsection (a) that “A person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report as provided by this subchapter.”

Similarly, we recommend that for the benefit of parents and students, the term “incident” should be revised to include abuse and neglect perpetrated not only by employees but also by contractors, volunteers, or other persons on the campus, including guests. The purpose of video surveillance is to safeguard and protect students with disabilities, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse, assault, and injury. Consistent with the Texas Family Code, any person authorized to be on campus is subject to a complaint alleging that he or she committed an incident against such a student.

Both of these recommendations are consistent with Texas Family Code 261.401, which expands the definitions of abuse and neglect in §261.001 to include the “intentional, knowing, or reckless act or omission by an employee, volunteer, or other individual working under the auspices of a facility or program…

§103.1301(e) Dispute Resolution
Subsection (e), as proposed, states that parents have the option to file a grievance about compliance with §29.022 of the Texas Education Code.

Comments: For the benefit of parents and students, we recommend an addition to subsection (e) that parents dissatisfied with action or inaction by a school district or charter school in conducting or reviewing video surveillance may also bring the grievance to the Commissioner of Education under Texas Education Code §7.057, relating to Appeals. We believe that as a provision of the school laws of this state, decisions of a school district or charter school regarding implementation of §29.022 are subject to appeal to the commissioner under §7.057.

Parents and students should be informed in this rule of their full legal options to challenge compliance with §29.022.

§103.1301(f) Extended School Year Services
Subsection (f), as proposed, grants school districts and charter schools authority to decide whether video monitoring will be conducted for students in the extended school year (ESY).

Comments: For the benefit of parents and students, we recommend a change to subsection (f) that would delete the provision that allows schools to unilaterally deactivate cameras when students are receiving ESY services. There is no provision in §29.022 that exempts groups of students with disabilities who otherwise qualify for video surveillance. The proposal discriminates against students with disabilities who participate in ESY services. New §29.022 states the circumstances under which a school may cease monitoring a classroom and the provision of ESY services is not included.

§103.1301(g) Policies and Procedures
Subsection (g), as proposed, outlines the requirements for local policies for video surveillance of self-contained special education classrooms and settings that must be adopted by school districts and charter schools.

Comments: For the benefit of parents and students, we recommend revisions to subsection (g).

First, statewide uniform guidelines for requesting video surveillance are needed. The process for requesting video surveillance should be simple and streamlined to make it as accessible as possible. Delegating policy making authority to the local level will result in a variety of practices across the state, and in some cases cause confusion, unnecessary steps, and excessive documentation requirements. Variations in local policies can make data collection more difficult and bring into question whether every parent and student supported by special education services has equal access to this protection. The policies that govern requesting video surveillance need to be set at the state level to ensure that parents are not discouraged from requesting surveillance and so that the purpose of SB 507 is not thwarted. At the SB 507 stakeholder meeting on February 9, 2016, we heard consistent feedback from parents, advocacy organizations, and school districts that TEA needed to develop streamlined guidelines.

Second, statewide uniform guidelines for reporting a complaint are needed. The process for reporting a complaint should be simple and streamlined to make it as accessible as possible. Delegating policy making authority to the local level will result in a variety of practices across the state, and in some cases cause confusion, unnecessary steps, and excessive documentation requirements. Variations in local policies can make data collection more difficult. The policies that govern reporting a complaint need to be set at the state level to ensure that parents are not discouraged from reporting and the purpose of SB 507 is not thwarted.

Third, we recommend local implementation and use policies that school districts and charter schools need to develop that (1) prohibit staff, volunteers, students, and others from obstructing the video and audio recording capabilities during surveillance; and (2) require any staff with concerns about the functioning or maintenance of the equipment to report it to an appropriate district contact such as the IT department.

 

Footnotes


  1. See 34 C.F.R. §300.30 for the definition of parent in the IDEA.