Rep. Bob Rommel (R-Naples) has introduced a bill in Florida’s House of Representatives that, if passed, would allow video cameras and microphones to be used in public classrooms beginning as early as July 2022. The bill, HB 1055, would see video cameras placed in the front of classrooms in order to record any “incident” while also forcing teachers to be monitored by wearing microphones in the event that any recorded incident needed to be reviewed.
The Florida Education Association, which is the largest teacher’s union in the state of Florida, has a number of reservations concerning this bill and its possible passage. Andrew Spar is the union’s president and addressed their concerns via a written statement. It said, via Tampa Bay 10:
“We have questions about this bill regarding parental rights and other issues. Could law enforcement or the district use the video to investigate a situation dealing with a student without parental knowledge? Can the video be used by law enforcement if a student harms another student or a school employee? Can a teacher use the recording to show that they did not get assistance in a timely manner after calling the office? Can it be used as evidence to show how effective a teacher is in the classroom?”
The bill describes an “incident” as “abuse or neglect of a student by an employee or another student.” Upon introducing the bill, Rep. Rommel commented, “Children are our most precious assets in the state of Florida and we should make sure we do everything we can to protect them and teachers too.” While Rommel didn’t offer one specific incident, he did say there were some that helped spur this bill. “There are incidents, a teacher/student incident, and we want to make sure we protect everyone in the classroom.”
He then continued, “We know of incidents of bullying, we do know some parents have complained of children being indoctrinated into some hateful theories,” Rommel said via Newsweek. “Now they’ll be a recording and whether it’s the parent or teacher that thinks there’s an incident will actually have proof.”
If the bill is passed, it won’t come down as a mandate. Each school district will have to okay the use of cameras in the classroom and microphones on teachers. But teachers being monitored is something the union is not keen on. Either is Angie Snow, who teaches at an elementary school in Florida’s Hillsborough County. She is not in favor of the proposed bill, feeling it is hard enough without cameras and microphones to keep good teachers in Florida classrooms.
“Morale is not high in education with teachers and this is just going to look to teachers as another way to catch them,” Snow said. She then asked the more important questions like who is going to pay for classrooms to be fitted with cameras? Who will also be paying for teachers’ microphones? What if the school district votes in favor of the cameras but the teacher does not want it? If there is an incident, who is in charge of going through all the footage to find that one specific incident?
The cameras in question would only be set in the front of classrooms, not to where recordings could take place in private areas such as bathrooms or changing areas. “It’s not live-streamed. So, the teacher’s privacy and how they teach their class is not going to be infringed on,” explained Rommel. He then noted that footage would only be reviewed upon an incident taking place.
If an incident were to happen, according to the bill, parents of a child involved must be allowed to review the video within one week. There would also be a stipulation that if parents are reviewing the video, any other child who is on camera but who isn’t involved in the incident must be blurred out.
Again, if passed, parents, students, teachers, and other school employees must be notified before the cameras are installed in the classrooms. Per the bill, school principals would be in charge of all the classroom videos. They would have to keep each recording for three months or “until the conclusion of any investigation or any administrative or legal proceedings.” The video then must be destroyed either at the end of the three months or the investigation concludes.
If passed the bill won’t immediately mean cameras in classrooms. Instead, it will allow for school districts to discuss and then vote on whether they should implement the bill at a local level. Districts would then have until January 1, 2023, to make their intentions known. Expect the Florida Education Association to have plenty more to say.