Lights! Cameras! Action! (To Take Following a Request to View Special Education Camera Footage)
Texas Education Code 29.022 leaves little room for confusion regarding the requirements for placing video cameras in certain self-contained classrooms and other special education settings following a request by a parent, Board member, or District employee. The law is less clear, however, regarding the parameters for responding to requests to review recordings on these cameras. This uncertainty often leaves school districts, particularly school administrators, confused as to how to respond to these requests in accordance with the law. Fortunately, the special education team at Thompson & Horton LLP has broken down these requirements and provided step-by-step guidance for responding to these requests.
Step 1: Consider whether the requestor is allowed to make the request.
Remember that only the following individuals may request to review video footage recorded on special education cameras:
- An employee involved in an alleged incident as defined by the law (and explained below). The alleged incident must have been reported to the school district and be documented by the recording;
- A parent of a student involved in an alleged incident as defined by the law. The alleged incident must have been reported to the school district and be documented by the recording;
- Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) personnel as part of an investigation of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect of a child under Texas Family Code 261.406;
- Appropriate agency or State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) personnel or agents as part of an investigation.
- The following individuals (note: your District’s Board policy may further define these individuals):
- Peace officer,
- School nurse,
- School district administrator trained in de-escalation and restraint techniques as provided by Commissioners Rules, or
- Human resources personnel designated by the Board of Trustees
In response to:
- A report of an alleged incident as defined by the law,
- An investigation of school district personnel, or
- A report of alleged abuse committed by a student.
Step 2: Consider whether the requestor has submitted an appropriate request.
Before allowing a parent or District employee to view the video footage, determine whether the request sets forth facts related to a suspected “alleged incident” in a self-contained classroom or other special education setting where special education video cameras are located. Specifically, an “alleged incident” is one that involves (1) alleged “abuse” or “neglect,” as described in Texas Family Code 261.001, of a student by a staff member of the school district; or (2) alleged “physical abuse” or “sexual abuse,” as described in Texas Family Code § 261.410, of a student by another student. Keep in mind that this is a narrow definition. If the request does not include information related to a suspected “alleged incident” or is otherwise overly broad (for example, not limited in time or location), seek additional information from the requestor or ask them to submit a revised request with the appropriate information. Additionally, pay attention to whether the requestor has completed all required forms and/or has made the request to the appropriate District personnel, if required by your District.
Step 3: Review the relevant camera footage and determine if it meets the limited circumstances to be released for viewing.
After receiving an appropriate request by a parent or District employee, review the video footage in a timely manner in accordance with District policies and procedures to determine if an “alleged incident” occurred. The District may also be required to provide access to view this footage if it meets one of the limited circumstances where it is considered an “educational record” under FERPA. If the request is made by DFPS or SBEC as part of an investigation, make the footage available for viewing to the agency regardless of whether it depicts an “alleged incident” but do not provide a copy of the footage directly to the agency.
Step 4: Notify the requestor of the school district’s decision and schedule a time to review the footage, if appropriate.
If the video footage shows an “alleged incident,” schedule a time to review the footage with the parent or District employee requesting to review the footage at a mutually agreeable time. Additionally, if the request was made by a parent or guardian and the video constitutes an education record under FERPA, even if it does not show an “alleged incident,” schedule a time to review the footage with the parent. Do not, however, provide a copy of the recording to the requestor directly. If the video footage does not show an “alleged incident” and may not be released for viewing under FERPA, promptly notify the requestor that the District may not release the footage in accordance with the law and provide information related to the local grievance process.
T&H Tip – Texas Education Code 29.022 prohibits school districts from releasing special education camera video footage unless it meets one of these limited circumstances. Therefore, school districts may not choose to release this footage for viewing if it does not depict an “alleged incident” or is not otherwise an education record under FERPA.
Step 5: Maintain video footage in accordance with school district policy.
Generally, school districts must maintain special education video camera footage for three months following the date of recording and should stop maintaining the footage after this time. Following receipt of a request to review the footage, however, school districts must maintain the recording until the requestor has exhausted all appeals related to the request or the deadline for doing so has passed.
Step 6: Keep calm and contact your special education attorneys at Thompson & Horton LLP with any questions!
We recognize that responding to these requests can be daunting for school districts, and we are here to help. For assistance with reviewing special education policies, procedures, or forms related to these requests, trainings on this topic, or advice regarding responding to specific requests, contact the author of this post or any member of the Thompson & Horton Special Education Team.
*Disclaimer: This is a general overview of how to respond to requests to view special education video camera footage under Texas Education Code 29.022. It is not intended to be a comprehensive legal analysis of how to respond in each particular situation. School districts should follow their own policies and procedures for responding to such requests and communicate with their legal counsel with any fact-specific questions.