More Possible Teacher Abuse Of Kids With Special Needs: Should Classrooms Have Video Cameras?

Dribble hot sauce on crayons to deter a kid from putting them in his mouth: It’s mind-boggling that any teacher could think this was a good idea. But it’s even more mind-boggling when it involves a special-needs teacher who works with kids who have autism. This is what Lillian Gomez allegedly did in her class last fall at Sunrise Elementary school in Osceola County, Florida. She’s been suspended; a termination hearing is set for later in February.

A few months ago, a story came out about teachers caught bullying a child with special needs in Ohio; they were saying things like “Are you that damn dumb?” These stories are horrific but particularly terrifying if you have a kid with special needs. They make you wonder:  Could anything like that happen in my child’s class?

I would like to think the answer is no. I know and adore my son’s teacher, and the aides in the class seem great. But stories like these sure do give you pause. They make you fear for your child, who might not be able to communicate about abusive incidents. They certainly make you wonder about what sort of checks and balances schools have for making sure these sorts of things doesn’t happen.

Mostly, though, I can’t get past how a person who works with kids who have special needs could do this. In my nine years of meeting special ed teachers and therapists, I have found nearly every one of them to be exceptionally wonderful human beings. Working with our kids has its vast rewards but it also has vast challenges; these people chose a more challenging teaching path because they care for kids with disabilities.The occasional rotten apple in the bunch, then, comes as a surprise—although in every profession, there are rotten apples in the bunch.

I don’t know the first thing about how principals or people who run schools, any schools, make sure teachers are being humane. Installing video cameras in classrooms is one viable solution, although it would be controversial in the same way nannycams are. Some might say they’re not a problem if a teacher has nothing to hide—but some might say they’re an extreme invasion of privacy. Cameras are already present in various daycare centers around the country.

Back in December 2010, a Florida state board member recommended that the state install video cameras in classrooms as a teacher evaluation tool. As she said, “This video will provide us the opportunity to have more objective evaluations.”

If the state had done that, there’s a good chance this teacher would not have used hot sauce as a discipline tool.

I would not mind a videocam in my kids’ classrooms. What’s your take on this?


Image of help card in red via Shutterstock


Add a Comment
Back To To The Max
  1. by Kelly Krei

    On February 3, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Ellen, thank you for writing on this topic; it is a true shame that there are some special ED teachers that have found themselves in the wrong profession, and this story is a good reminder to parents of children with special needs that we need to be as ‘involved’ as we possibly can.
    Everyone under the roof of a school could be considered cause for concern if we imagined the worst possible scenario, but that is not how we approach our children’s educational experience and thus far our sons have had the best experience of their lives at school.
    After the birth of our sons, my wife and I searched out a neighborhood that we could raise our sons in, where the schools were close by starting from elementary all the way through high school. We also make it a point to introduce ourselves to everyone that is involved in our sons care at each school as they progress. When behavior issues need to be addressed it as done as a team effort between us and the school(s).
    As parents we do not just simply drop our children at school and wish everyone good luck in performing their jobs and by the way, raise my kids to be good citizens while you’re at it . . . this is never our approach as parents and our sons have benefited from it. They like going to school and look forward to it every day and when we see their teachers and paras out in public, they speak to us and do not try avoid us, this speaks volumes about the relationship that we established so that our children enjoy their experience in school and learn from it.
    Bad teachers need to find new jobs, it also makes me wonder how they treat their own children, but then again, worrying about my own kids gives me plenty enough to think about. Thanks again for this post.

  2. by Angie

    On February 3, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Hey Ellen,

    As a parent who has had nothing but positive experiences with special ed and mainstream teachers alike, I am all for cameras in the classroom. Not only would the videos allow the schools to make objective evaluations, I think they could also help in evaluating our childrens’ progress. For example, Ruby was not eating lunch well at school for a few weeks and we were trying to figure out what was going on. Perhaps by watching videos of lunch time, her teachers and I could have identified a pattern in her behavior or elements in her environment that could have been contributing to her resistance to eat. Since I can’t be in the classroom with her, when issues arise, I could watch videos and give the staff tips on ways that I handle similar behaviors at home. I want to be as involved as I can be in her education and videos would make that much easier.

    Thanks for the great post!

  3. by Jana Weaver

    On February 3, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Wow. I truly can’t believe someone would do this. I’m so thankful that Jack’s teachers are all so amazing. as for the video camera, I’d have no problem having one in my child’s classroom so long as I knew how the video feed was being used, and by whom.

  4. by Tracy

    On February 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I am all for cameras in the classroom. I also think cameras on buses should be a requirement. Two years ago my special need son was assulted by the bus driver and the school district and the police both said ‘you can’t prove it.’ because there was no video and my son couldn’t tell them exactly what happened.

  5. by hannah

    On February 3, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    thanks for sharing this. our son was recently diagnosed with autism. we adore the preschool special needs program here by appearances at least! he begins there later this month and i am a wee bit anxious. i always thought i wouldn’t send my child anywhere until he was talking. well, he is three, doesn’t speak and needs this school. so, we move forward and trust that this place is as delightful and helpful as it seems.
    cameras in the classrooms wouldn’t bother me:)

    happy weekend!

  6. by Teacher in NJ

    On February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Horrifying acts by terrible teachers. These are the exception not the rule. As a first grade teacher, I can see both sides of the camera argument. While I have never done anything that I wouldnt mind having caught on camera, I would be opposed to being videotaped throughout my day. It is an invasion of my privacy as I spend several hours in a day without children. Besides, would cameras be installed in the hallways and restrooms? Would parents be opposed to student discipline based on video content? The parameters of this would be so far reaching that it would be difficult to control and even more difficult to use as an evaluation tool. Let’s be honest…should we begin to monitor Poor parenting in restaurants and stores?

  7. by Gabrielle

    On February 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    My daughter’s day care (which includes Kindergarten) has cameras in all the classrooms. Parents (and other family members, with permission) can log in at any time to see how their child is doing. When my daughter had a couple hard days at drop-off, I could show her the cameras and tell her she could wave at me any time she wanted to. I think the idea of cameras in classrooms could only be good.

  8. by Angel Rule

    On February 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I would have no problem with video camera’s in any of my children’s class rooms. I have one child in regular ed and one in special ed and feel it would be a good resource for both settings. Not only for the safety of the children but for the teachers as well.

  9. by Stacey C

    On February 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Videocameras in the classroom seem like a good idea on the surface, but all you’re doing in replacing one safety issue with another. I don’t want to think about all the ways a video could be used to harm children and we all know there’s no such thing as a “secure” video. I think this would open schools up to the public in ways that no one is anticipating and could be devastating.

    I also think that in order for schools to work there has to be trust in the professionals that work there. We can’t let a few bad seeds ruin our entire perspective on teachers. And while it seems as though these incidents are common, they are not. These are a handful of teachers out of literally millions in the US.

  10. by areyoukiddingme

    On February 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Maybe I only find this funny because I don’t have kids. But I think calling putting hot sauce on crayons to discourage kids from putting them in their mouth child abuse is absurd. I mean seriously? Is lemon juice abuse too? Is a little spice on the tongue more dangerous than the choking hazard of a crayon? Get a friggin life people. There are children being blown up, starved raped and murdered. Let’s talk about what really matters. Hot sauce.. pfft. I wish I had your job.

  11. by Heidi

    On February 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    While it may be in poor taste (pun intended!), is it really abusive to put hot sauce on crayons? When I make homemade playdough I have to put a lot of salt in it, if a child ate some (though they were told not to) would THAT be abuse? Isn’t learning not to eat art materials an important life lesson that all children need to learn anyway? Would it be kinder to let them eat all kinds of art supplies and then get sick? How would you feel if you went to pick up your special needs child from school and they were throwing up technicolor barf from eating crayons? Is that preferable to the moment of distaste from a tiny drop of hot sauce?

  12. by Lindsey

    On February 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Cameras in a classroom are totally not a good idea. I used to work at a daycare, did my job very well, and still hated to be on camera. When a new director came in she didn’t like me for some reason and I know she sat and watched me all day waiting for ANY mistake to fire me. There’s no such thing as a secure video, they can all be hacked. I don’t want some over protective parent calling the school over every little thing. They will. I promise you. You don’t know what kind of parents also have children in your child’s class. I don’t want someone tuning into my child’s and watching my kid. You would think that this is better for everyone but it’s not.

    The act of a few teachers shouldn’t make it seem like ALL teachers are doing this. This teacher thought she was doing something ok. Yeah she should’ve checked into it. She made a mistake. That doesn’t mean cameras need to be installed.

  13. by Hope

    On February 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Seriously? Hot sauce on crayons is not “abuse”. Don’t we have more important things to worry about?

  14. by Sarah

    On February 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Why is hot sauce abuse??? My lil cousin used to bite her nails all the way down n her Dr. told my Aunt to try putting hot sauce on her nails, n she did…it didn’t work. She liked the hot sauce. But I don’t get it I guess.

    Now belittling a special needs child is totally wrong. Especially if your their teacher.

    As for cameras in the classroom, uh, NO. That’s a horrible idea. If you’re that insecure about what’s going on with your children, go to the school n check it out. I mean we moved 350miles away from friends n family so we could put our children into a school system we actually liked.

  15. by Amber

    On February 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Firstly, Hope, it is abuse. Secondly, my opinion on cameras in the classroom is this: some teachers, special education or otherwise, do things that they should not. Some students also do things that can be dangerous to classmates or their teachers. I think that cameras in the classroom is a great idea. There needs to be some objective way for parents and administrators to see what is going on, especially in light of recent events. Not only was there the teachers abusing the girl, now there is this… and all the sexual abuse charges coming out of California right now, too. Things are getting way out of hand. Something needs to be done to protect these kids.

  16. by Tamara

    On February 8, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I think those of you who think these situations are rare would be surprised at how common abuse of students with disabilities really is. Look up the hearings on the restraint and seclusion legislation – that our congress still hasn’t passed. Heartbreaking situations – one boy died because he took a piece of candy from a teacher’s desk – because he was hungry – why? Because his teacher did not allow him to have his lunch because he had not created an assignment. I think this teacher totally knew what she was doing was wrong. It wasn’t a mistake. She knew what she was doing was cruel.

  17. by TJ

    On February 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    I don’t think hot sauce on crayons is abuse either—-poor judgment, yes. Abuse? no. I know some parents and people who have put hot sauce or other “bad” tasting things on their finger nails or their children’s nails to try and stop them from biting their nails. Hot sauce does not harm anyone. Maybe the teacher thought hot sauce, being a substance that is suppose to be consumed, was safer than crayons, which are not suppose to be consumed.

    As fas as cameras in a classroom—-I do not think they should be installed. What if your child was the one having a bad day, or made a bad decision and hit another child, or got in trouble. Do you want all the neighborhood to see that, discuss that and possibly judge you or your child? I really have no problem with the teacher being on camera per say, however, you can’t film the teacher with out having the students on camera too—-and I do have a problem with that. Video streams can and do get hacked. I don’t want my kid’s bad day showing up on youtube (or anyone else’s bad day either).

    And if the camera did catch a teacher doing something inappropriate or what they thought was inappropriate, that video would be on yutube in minutes and that teacher would have their life ruined—-even if it turned out they didn’t do anything wrong.

  18. by Mary P

    On February 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Pasting over from Facebook, maybe the author might read it here.

    Really? How much overreaction can you get? She didn’t put arsenic on these crayons… calling her an abuser? Losing her job (special needs teachers are getting less and less these days because of *some* not all hyperactive parents who refuse to let their kids blossom by micromanaging their schooling) when otherwise she might be incredibly capable? BTW, there are some research papers that suggest in children with low cognitive that do have issues eating things like crayons (Often categorized as PICA) to put “icky tasting” deterrents on them. Peer reviewed papers. Heck, they sell nail polish that taste ridiculous to help all kids stop biting their nails. They sell sprays of varying tastes and types to literally put on things like crayons, TV remotes, whatever you want to keep them from trying to eat them. In a classroom of children sharing these and eating them (BTW, I have to wonder a bit if the parents are just opening their purses to replace the dozens of “lost” crayons), getting each other sick – norovirus can and does happen in schools – where traditional phrases to stop children may not work, I cannot believe some of you are calling for her head! Who is gonna be next and say she should be killed?

    First, eating crayons is a choking hazard – so if the teacher could be stopping the hazard and didn’t, you have her arrested for THAT. Second, for the parents stating “what if the kid was allergic” – it would have been on the child’s record. Either the hot sauce itself or one of the ingredients. Lastly, controversy aside, some parents are NOT vaccinating the children in these classrooms, including against highly contagious and deadly diseases. Depending on herd immunity wouldn’t really matter much if the kids might as well be licking each other. It safely alters a long term behavior for overall long term health with minimal intrusion. If you think it was so easy to teach your kid not to eat crayons, then you would have done it already and the hot sauce wouldn’t be an issue, now would it?

    Considering the weight if “icky taste in the mouth” against choking, serious illness and death risks – just baffles me.

    And frankly, many teachers of special needs children are wonderful, great, innovative teachers. Often it’s the PARENTS who don’t step up to recognize their children’s full potential. Many parents yank their kids from school to school saying teachers expected too much, micromanaged and told these teachers how to do their jobs.

    Things trivial such as this could chase away the very teachers who could make a real difference in this world, having to worry over things that don’t matter, people seriously wanting this woman to be arrested… it’s insane!

  19. by Jessica

    On February 9, 2012 at 12:15 am

    I do not see anything wrong with what she did. I see it as a good way to prevent the children from ingesting things they should not. Crayons are non-toxic, but that does not mean they should be eaten. How is that any different from using flavored nail polish/edible bitter sprays/lemon juice to prevent a child from putting undesirable things in his mouth?

  20. by Emilie

    On February 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    For those claiming it is not abuse, how would you mind accidentally eating hot sauce? Chances are if you eat it, the sauce is in a meal accompanied by a drink, which is much different than plain hot sauce. Also, these are CHILDREN, not adults who have higher tolerances for hot ingredients.
    Secondly, the school my son attends has cameras; however, they are only at the facility–not viewable online–and near the office. I am able to drop by at any time to see what is going on in my child’s class. It is a wonderful reassurance that there is nothing to hide in the classrooms.

  21. by SHERRY

    On February 25, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Okay. I live in FL and this was on my local news. The teacher also added hot sauce in playdoe! I cannot believe some posts on here think there is nothing wrong with this. All the child has to do after touching the crayons or playdoe, is rub their eyes or use the restroom. Now tell me know if there isn’t something wrong with this lady. I have cut peppers and then made the mistake of rubbing my eyes later. Also, it burns your hands if you have even the smallest abrasion or broken skin. She’s the teacher for a reason and if she cannot handle telling the children not to put them in their mouths, maybe she should switch activities so she can handle it. If not, maybe she should’ve not been a special ed teacher. With that said…

    Yes, cameras are essential in our school buses and have been used to prosecute guilty parties in battery and assault and also have been used to protect those that need protection like these poor children. It’s not am end all, but a preventive that could have made this “lady” think twice about her actions.

  22. by life skills teacher

    On April 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I am a life skills teacher. I love my job. I love my students, and the families of my students. I am a very good teacher. I have dedicated my life to helping children with disabilities. I have worked at four different school districts, and everyone I have ever worked with, truly loved the kids. We do not make much money, it is an unbelievable amount of work, and an incredibly litigious environment. You have to do it because you love it. Now I am not saying this means that all teachers are good. I am not naive. I am saying though that fear is powerful. I have a very close relationship with my student’s families. I have parents that come every day to my class and help. I have an open door policy for parents. If you have a special needs child, you should be in contact with your child’s teacher regularly(especially if your child is non-verbal)I ask you to imagine having 15 special needs children in your home. You are responsible for all of them all the time. You have parents that expect that you will take care of them to the best of your ability. Would you never make a mistake? If you did occasionally,and every parent of every child had access to what you did all day every day, do you not think that a handful of the parents would become a nuisance, overlooking the colossal amount of GOOD that you do on a daily basis. Do you then not think that the teacher would then feel crapped on by parents, who would themselves also make occasional mistakes. Do you think that every parent of every child would take into consideration how hard it is to do this job. Do you think the parents would talk to the teacher first, or run straight to the administration and create the biggest tidal wave you ever saw? Well please don’t give the general public too much credit. Also, do you think it would fly well if the parent of another student saw your special needs child hit their son/daughter in a moment of rage? We of course report these things the second they happen, but do you not think the parents would see this, and immediately have the police involved.People please think how insulting it would be to have someone watching over you. Please understand that the day this happens is the last day I teach special needs. This would be the last day that all the special needs teachers I know would teach your children. It is a thankless job that we do because we love your children. If you want to watch from home, then come on up and take my job, and see how well you do under such scrutiny. OR come on up and be an integral part of the life skills family. Plan stuff with us. Help with lessons. Be part of the team, and not part of the micro-managers. There is enough of that krahp. Why do you think the turn over is so high?
    thank you for listening.

  23. by Janie

    On April 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    @emilie: “how would you mind accidentally eating hot sauce?” Well, dearie, if I was going about licking doorknobs or eating crayolas or any other nonedible item, then I would learn NOT to do that. How would YOU mind accidentally using a crayola that had been chewed on by me or shoved up my nose or stuck in my pants – especially if I had a nasty case of herpes or the stomach flu? How would YOU mind YOUR CHILD accidentally using the crayola after this kid and then being given a contagious disease? You would change your tune pretty damn quick – guaranteed!

    @sherry: Everyone – both kids and adults – need to learn not to touch their face with their hands. It is the #1 way that viruses are spread and the reason why so many school systems suffer from out of control contagious illnesses. Without doubt, the same brat who was plugging his orifices with crayolas was munching down on the playdough as well.

    This is in NO WAY abuse. The reason why no one wants ‘special needs’ parents and kids in mainstream schools anymore is because the parents behaviour. You know what, if you know that your lil darlin’ tends to do things like shove crayolas where they don’t belong, turn of the telly and TEACH YOUR CHILD PROPER BEHAVIOUR AT HOME then you won’t have to worry about it at school. And before you claim “my child is toooo special to learn how to behave” – well then your kid doesn’t need to be in school (you know – the place where you go to learn).

    IT’S HOT SAUCE for God’s sake! It beats the hell out of the brat choking to death because he swallowed a crayola!

  24. by Maranda Marvin

    On May 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    I am so passionate about this I started a petition for it. Please sign the petition for the installation of cameras in ALL special needs classrooms. It just makes sense and I am completely amazed it has not already be done. Actually, I question why it hasn’t been done and sadly, I think we all know the answer to that! Please sign the petition:

  25. [...] Healthcare Reform and Children with Special NeedsMartial Arts For Special Needs ChildrenUsing Melatonin For Special Needs ChildrenMore Teacher Abuse Of Kids With Special Needs: Should Classrooms Have Video Cameras [...]

  26. by giawawjaeh

    On August 27, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for magnificent information I was looking for this More Possible Teacher Abuse Of Kids With Special Needs: Should Classrooms Have Video Cameras? | To The Max for my mission.