Time to put cameras in classrooms?

(Bedford) Times-Mail

Protecting children. Protecting privacy. Promoting trust. Promoting openness.

Those are among the values that are clashing in Kokomo. The resolution could bring big changes to schools in Lawrence and Indiana’s other 91 counties.

The issue can be summed up in five words: putting cameras in some classrooms.

Local parents, students and school leaders already are accustomed to having cameras on school buses and in hallways and other public areas. Putting cameras in some classrooms, however, is another thing altogether.

The Kokomo Tribune has been covering the issue, and The Associated Press picked up the news. As with other complex debates, this one started from a specific, terrible reality.

In March 2014, young Colton Smith, who is now 8 years old, suffered a bloody nose and a black eye during class at an elementary school. Colton has autism and doesn’t speak. He couldn’t tell his parents, Leslie and Daniel Brannon, how he got hurt.

At first Colton’s teacher said the boy tripped and fell into a toy box. But an investigation found the teacher had inappropriately restrained Colton in a standard classroom chair using a strap and left the boy unattended.

Leslie Brannon said administrators found he had tipped over backward in the chair. She’s still not sure how that caused the injuries to his face.

That’s why the Brannons and other parents want a law to provide for cameras in special needs classrooms.

Beth Krueger, whose 16-year-old son Jaydan Murphy also has autism and is non-verbal, would like to see cameras in her son’s classroom at Kokomo High School.

“If there’s any questions during the day, they can go back and look at exactly what happened,” Krueger said. “I think it would be good for the teachers, the aides, students, behavior specialists.”

But some educators and other advocates balk at the idea, citing the rights of other students and the teachers.

“I understand families want to make sure their children are safe,” Cathy Pratt, director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, told the Tribune. “I’ve heard this idea from other families, and I’m not sure how you would do that while protecting the rights of the other students and the staff.”

Kokomo school officials say current procedures are adequate to handle allegations of wrong-doing in the classroom. When a child is injured, the nurse examines the child. School officials contact the parents, and if a parent asserts a staff member caused the injuries, the school contacts the Department of Child Services.

Difficult public policy decisions can be found when basic rights collide. That’s the case here.

This is the kind of issue that deserves reasonable, respectful debate by our state’s lawmakers.

On one hand, it’s hard to embrace the notion of having cameras record every moment of our lives. We value our privacy. And, given the financial challenges our schools already face, it’s hard to imagine who will pay the price of the equipment and the salaries of those who have to monitor the images.

On the other hand, public schools are public places, not private residences. The people who work there are responsible not only to administrators, students and parents, but also to the public at large. And when children can’t tell their parents what happened in the classroom, protecting them — and the reputations of their teachers — becomes even more critical.

This is the kind of issue that deserves reasonable, respectful debate by our state’s lawmakers.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.