9 Investigates: Installing cameras in special needs classrooms

By: Jason Kelly , Nancy Alvarez

Updated:

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Lee Anderson grew concerned last December when his autistic, non-verbal son, Caleb, returned home from school bruised.

"I couldn't get a straight answer from anyone about what happened," Anderson said. "He can't tell me, 'Dad: This happened, that happened.'"

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Anderson learned weeks later that Keyunta Murphy -- a 23-year-old volleyball coach and student adviser at Pierson's T. Dewitt Taylor Middle-High School -- was accused of molesting two students on campus.

Investigators said they're still trying to determine whether Murphy victimized Caleb.

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Anderson said surveillance cameras could have helped provide answers to his questions. He said that Florida ought to follow Texas' lead by requiring cameras to be installed in all classrooms where special needs students are taught.

Margaret Newman Thornton is the director of services at OCA, an Orange County facility that provides classes and behavioral therapy to children with special needs. The sessions are recorded by cameras.

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Santiago, a non-verbal 9-year-old boy, has been prone to violent episodes. During classes at OCA, Newman Thornton and Channel 9's Nancy Alvarez observed a behavioral analyst who worked in a neighboring classroom with a special mat handy.

"One of his behaviors is to bang his body onto the floor, so we put (the mat) under him right away," Newman Thornton said. "By the time I get there and she gets there, it could be three to five seconds to have (a) full team to support him."

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She credits the cameras for the prompt response.

Newman Thornton said it could take up to two minutes for personnel to respond to such an incident at a public school, which could endanger children.

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"You don't have as many injuries when you can stop a behavior from escalating in three to five seconds," she said. "If you're waiting 30 seconds or two minutes (because) someone can't get to a walkie(-talkie) or can't get assistance, that's (when) people get injured."

Anderson, who now advocates for the installation of cameras in special needs classrooms, said cost doesn't justify inaction.

Read: 9 Investigates: Volusia County parents say autistic children treated like criminals

School districts receive government funding for each student with special needs in their care. Volusia County Schools, for instance, was funded more than $91 million this year.

OCA spent $1,700 to install six cameras at its facility. The surveillance system costs $130 per month to maintain.

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Anderson said it's a small price to pay to protect the most vulnerable students.

"A convenience store has a camera (focused) on a bag of potato chips," he said. "A bag of potato chips is more protected than my son."

Read: Marion County special needs teacher gets 3 years probation after assessment tests invalidated

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