The GOP Wants Cameras in Classrooms to Fight Teachers’ ‘Sinister Agenda’

Everyone knows you can’t have freedom and liberty without expanding the surveillance state.
Manusapon Kasosod/Getty Images
Manusapon Kasosod/Getty Images

Everyone knows you can’t have freedom and liberty without expanding the surveillance state, so that’s exactly what one Iowa Republican is trying to do—by bringing cameras into the classroom and livestreaming public education. 

Rep. Norlin Mommsen, who serves in the state House of Representatives, introduced a bill Tuesday that would mandate all public school classrooms not designated for physical or special education to have cameras streaming a live feed for parents and guardians to view. 

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Mommsen did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment on the bill. But he told the right-leaning website the Center Square that he introduced the bill to address what pro-book–banning Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, the leader of the Iowa Senate, recently called a “sinister agenda” on the part of educators and members of the press “who wish to normalize sexually deviant behavior against our children, including pedophilia and incest.”

Chapman said last year that teachers who “disseminated” books such as The Hate U Give and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, both young adult books by people of color, should be criminally prosecuted.

“This would eliminate this ‘sinister plot’ chatter because the video shows there’s not a sinister plot,” Mommsen told the Center Square.

The bill states that “only a parent or guardian of a child in the classroom may view the footage during hours in which students are in normal attendance,” but given the prevalence of Zoom-bombing throughout the pandemic, it’s not clear how the state would ensure privacy. 

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The bill also details punishments for teachers who tamper with or disconnect the cameras, including fines of up to 5 percent of the teacher’s weekly salary. Mike Beranek, the president of the Iowa State Education Association union, which represents more than 50,000 Iowa school employees, told VICE News the bill was “completely outrageous and dangerous” and “written with the intent of insulting” teachers and school boards.

“To suggest that precious school resources be spent on livestreaming equipment and additional bandwidth so that anyone can observe a classroom is misguided,” Beranek said.

“We need more resources, not less to meet the needs of our students. These funds should be used to employ additional qualified professionals, reduce class sizes, and provide more programming that help students love to learn.”

But Mommsen likened the feed to a police body camera, saying that if he were a cop, “I would have put one on, just for my own self-protection.” (The Iowa State Patrol, which is funded by the legislature through the state Department of Public Safety, does not have body cameras.)

“Similar to a body camera on a policeman, a camera takes away the ‘he said, she said’ or ‘he said, he said,’ type argument and lets them know ‘hey, we are doing a good job,’” Mommsen told the Center Square. “It takes that argument away.” Mommsen also claimed the bill was driven by a desire to “showcase the great work our teachers do.” 

“Instead of keeping our kids safe in the classroom, this dangerous idea puts our kids at risk every time they go to school,” Democratic Rep. Ras Smith told VICE News. “As a parent and lawmaker, I’m disappointed this bill was even filed.”

Iowa would not be the first state to put cameras in classrooms, but most others—including Louisiana, which passed a bill last year signed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards—have been limited to special needs classrooms. A bill introduced by Florida Republicans last month would install cameras in classrooms at the request of a parent, but the footage would not be livestreamed and wouldn’t be used in teacher evaluations. 

Last year, a conservative group in Nevada pushed for teachers to be forced to wear body cameras in the classroom so they couldn’t teach “critical race theory.”

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