Tucked inside a bill passed by the Legislature that limits when teachers statewide can restrain or seclude a child is a camera requirement that applies only to Broward County.
Cameras may watch teachers and students in Broward County’s special needs classrooms this fall, as part of a state effort to help prevent child abuse.
The state plans to create a pilot program where the district will have to install video cameras in classrooms where most students are disabled if a parent makes a written request.
The proposal, spearhead by State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, passed unanimously in the Legislature and is expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“It’s all about keeping kids safe,” Book said. “Many of these kids are nonverbal and they can’t tell Mom or Dad if something happened.”
The video can be watched only if there’s a concern about possible abuse that’s serious enough to warrant an investigation by the Department of Children and Families. Viewing would be limited to school officials, law enforcement, the students involved in alleged abuse and their parents.
“They’re not going to be livestreaming it. It won’t be in every child’s home,” said Jacqui Luscombe, a parent who serves as chairwoman of the district’s Exceptional Student Education Advisory Council.
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Book said she drafted the legislation after meeting parents of students who were allegedly mistreated in several high-profile incidents.
One incident at Pasadena Lakes Elementary School in Pembroke Pines in 2019 led to the firing of a teacher and classroom assistant. They were accused of swearing at and physically abusing kindergarten students. A recording device placed in a child’s backpack captured the audio. The camera program isn’t receiving much support from the Broward School District.
At a budget workshop Thursday, district lobbyist John Sullivan called it an “unfunded mandate” since the state provided no money to buy the cameras. Book said that was because no one knows how much it will cost until the state and district see how many requests there will be.
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General Counsel Barbara Myrick said the state gave the district little guidance. “There is no provision that allows a parent that doesn’t want their child in the video to complain,” Myrick said. “The only thing that can be done is to change classrooms, and that’s not always practical.”
Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, isn’t happy with the plans, either. She said teachers and assistants love working with special needs students, but this plan is offensive.
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