SC mom requests cameras in son’s special needs classroom

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCBD) – For children with disabilities like Autism, expressing feelings and thoughts about school can prove difficult. A South Carolina mother says her 5-year-old son starting acting differently when she asked him about school. Now she’s pushing for cameras in special needs classrooms.

Kimberly McFadden is a mother of four. Her son Tyler, 5, loves his i-Pad and art, but unlike his other siblings, he can’t speak and communicate clearly to his mother. She says her son’s behavior is becoming increasingly concerning and she wants the opportunity to see what’s going on inside his classroom.

“He acts like he’s terrified of school,” explains McFadden. “When you ask him about school, he either shuts down or acts terrified.”

The Lowcountry mom said the behavior started this school year. After a handful of incidents noted in daily reports sent home from his teachers, McFadden requested cameras in her son’s Berkeley County classroom. She wants the option to review any reports sent home that stem from the classroom.

“I want to have some accountability for the teachers,” states McFadden. “If something happens, we should be able to see what’s going on in the classroom.”

The Berkeley County School District declined WCBD’s request for a taped interview about its policy on cameras and McFadden’s comments. A spokesperson wrote via email they have received her request for cameras.

“At this time, the district does not have a policy that permits video cameras in the classroom in the manner requested,” the statement read in part.

WCBD’s I-Team reached out to the South Carolina Department of Education for how they guide school districts. A spokesman from Columbia said it’s a county level decision.

Charleston County doesn’t install cameras in special education classes either. There are cameras in classrooms with expensive equipment like band rooms and science labs.

In other school districts, like Dorchester School District Two, cameras come standard in self-contained classes.

Dr. Antonia Cappelletti, Director of Special Services for DD2, says right now nine special education classes are equipped with camera systems. She says classes can be unpredictable and the cameras add an extra layer of protection for everyone.

“In classes where students are non-verbal, it’s a safety factor for the students, the teachers, and for the families to have comfort,” she explained, adding after researching the topic, the district decided it was a “best practice.”

The cameras cost roughly $4,000 per room and are considered standard equipment when the district opens a new special education, self-contained class. Should an incident arise, parents can request to review the video from a specific time. Safety officials with the district blur the faces of any other children captured on the video to protect their privacy.

Texas is the first state in the country to require cameras in self-contained, special education classrooms if a parent or teacher requests it. That law, effective this school year, has raised questions about the cost to districts, student and teacher privacy, and even whether cameras will meet the goal of protecting children.

Dr. Cappelletti says that’s why parental involvement is paramount.

“Be actively, actively involved in your child’s education,” says Dr. Cappelletti. “Attend the IEP meetings; be present in the school; volunteer in the class; get to know the teacher.”

At this point, McFadden would prefer to homeschool, but knows her son needs the social interaction at school. She launched a petition that’s garnered more than 200 signatures so far.

The Berkeley County School District told the I-Team via email that, at this point, the request for cameras opens up privacy issues for other students and requires significant management and budgetary support. According to a spokesperson, the district is evaluating the request to determine what’s best. Ultimately, a final decision will come from the school board.