LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Special education students would be protected by the presence of cameras in their classrooms, parents testified Monday as the Nevada Senate Education Committee heard details of a new proposal.

Senate Bill 158 (SB158) would mandate video surveillance cameras during instruction hours in special education classrooms statewide. It’s a sensitive subject for people concerned about privacy — but that privacy has been a shield for abuse in classrooms, parents told the committee on Monday in Carson City.

Yesenia Gonzales, the mother of an autistic student in Las Vegas, said the legislation would protect the “most vulnerable” students.

“SB158 would give them a voice when an incident occurs as many are unfortunately unable to speak due to being nonverbal and having difficulty expressing,” Gonzales said in testimony from Las Vegas.

Parent Yesenia Gonzales testifies in favor of SB158 on Monday.

She told the committee how her autistic son was victimized, and how the school had retaliated against him when she started asking questions. Gonzales said the boy was placed in aversive restraints for two minutes, and “the person used their body weight, restricting my son’s ability to breathe, causing bruises and swelling to my son’s body.”

There were no cameras inside the classroom, and a camera positioned outside the door didn’t tell the story of what had happened inside, she said.

“My baby was not the same after this incident,” Gonzales said. “He wouldn’t look at me. He wouldn’t eat, speak, play with his brothers. He’d cry and was inconsolable. He isolated in his room and fell into a deep depression.”

When the truth was discovered, Gonzales said her son and another classmate had been kneed, kicked, denied medical attention when they were sick, and subjected to screaming and yelling from their teacher.

“For two years, they suffered at the hands of this monster. My son was the only verbal child in his class,” she said. Now she’s working with a group known as Azulblue United by Autism to make changes.

The Clark County School District estimates it would cost $14 million a year to put the cameras into operation.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Scott Hammond, who represents District 18 in northwest Las Vegas, said this is his third attempt to pass the bill, and it has been a balancing act.

“In crafting this bill, I have tried to respond to the concerns of students, parents and teachers. I think that this bill is a moderate and sensitive approach to a topic that has been widely discussed in the education community,” Hammond said.

Senator Scott Hammond speaks in Carson City on Monday as SB158 is introduced, seeking to require cameras in every special education classroom in the state.

And the pandemic has eased some uneasiness about cameras in classrooms. Zoom video and “distance learning” became a fact of life while schools were closed during the pandemic. Across the state, many students have never returned to classrooms.

SB158 specifies where the cameras will be — and they won’t be in bathrooms or dressing areas.

“What I’m asking for in this particular bill is really to try and protect those kids who are nonverbal, who aren’t really able to communicate what’s been going on with them in the classroom,” Hammond said.

“And more than anything, what we’ve been hearing back from teachers who may at first not like this — this intrusion, as they might call it at first — they come back and say that this is actually quite liberating because now they know that there’s a record going on in the classroom,” he said.