Noah Shefke’s life changed forever in October 2017.
The 10-year-old with severe autism was at school when during an episode he began to hit himself. No one restrained him at Keith Bovenschen School in Warren. His mom says he beat himself until he had a seizure and bleeding on the brain. He was rushed to the hospital in critical condition where he would remain in the hospital for weeks.
“It’s really hard for me to get my head there, but he could have died,” said Alisa Shefke, Noah’s mom, who doesn’t feel safe sending her son back to school.
“I know that whatever choices were made in the room, I know that I deserve to know," she said. "I would know if there was a camera."
Shelly Fraley and April Monteleone, who also have children in the Macomb Intermediate School District, agree.
They want cameras in classrooms or at least in special education classrooms. Their children were in 28-year-old Brittany Stevens' class in the MISD program at Sequoyah Elementary.
After paraprofessionals reported abuse, Stevens was charged with multiple counts of second-degree child abuse – a 10-year felony.
“I am so sad this is an issue,” said Shelly Fraley, whose son Owen has autism and is non-verbal.
"There is the fact that she would just, for no reason, go up behind these kids and slap them in the heads. Then she is cursing at them non-stop. 'You’re an F-ing a-hole. Get the F- away from me. I F-ing hate you.'”
And cursing at the children wasn't the only offense, one parent said.
“She spit on my child,” said April Monteleone.
Miles, Monteleone's son, also has autism and has a limited ability to communicate that someone is hurting him due to his disability. Both moms noticed their children were unhappy about school but did not know why until the teacher was charged.
Their attorney, David Christensen, says his firm has represented numerous parents with children in special education and mainstream classrooms. He says this idea of cameras in classrooms is not new.
A law passed three years ago in Texas allowing cameras in special education classrooms when parents request it. Some schools provide parents more access than others.
“If your child comes home andb for any reason, you suspect something might have happened, it depends on district-to-district how you go about starting the process to see that video footage,” said Maggie Suter of Texans for Special Education Reform in an interview done in Texas looking at how the legislation has impacted schools.
Suter has called for more consistency in how districts handle video in classrooms in Texas since the law went into effect.
“Why can we not live stream to check on our most precious creations – our children who we would give our lives for?” Fraley said. “I think we have the right to do that.”
Donald Bollinger, deputy superintendent of Macomb Intermediate School District said in a statement:
“The Macomb Intermediate School District takes the safety and welfare of its students extremely seriously. It is our goal to respect the rights of all students participating in our special education programs. The use of video cameras to record interactions between teachers and students in our special education classrooms implicates rights under both the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).
The MISD has spoken with its attorney Gary Collins of Collins & Blaha P.C., who has indicated that parent and student rights are individual rights and cannot be waived by other parents. Mr. Collins indicated that he believes there is irreconcilable conflict between federal privacy laws and any mandates requiring video surveillance. Out of respect for our parents and students, we cannot provide specific comments due to these privacy laws.”
So how is privacy protected when cameras are used in Texas classrooms? In most districts, children’s faces are blurred to conceal identities before video is released.
“He doesn’t get to have a voice,” said Shefke of her son. “The camera, in a sense, would be his voice.”
Monteleone says that she just wants to move forward in order to heal.
“(I want to make) sure this doesn’t happen in the future to other children,” she said.
These moms say for right now they are asking for change in the Macomb Intermediate School District, but they would like to see change statewide.