Naples Rep. Bob Rommel pushes Big Brother in Florida classrooms–Updated

Bill would put teachers under video surveillance

State Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples. (Image: Tampa Bay 10 News)

Jan. 14, 2022 by David Silverberg

A bill to place video cameras in Florida classrooms to put teachers under full-time surveillance, introduced by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), had its initial reading on Tuesday, Jan. 11, the first day of the Florida legislative session.

House Bill (HB) 1055, Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, “Authorizes school districts to adopt policy to place video cameras in public school classrooms; provides requirements for such policy; provides for viewing video recordings; provides DOE [Department of Education], school district, school, & certain employee responsibilities.” (A link to the full text of the bill is at the conclusion of this article.)

If passed in this legislative session the bill would take effect on July 1.

The bill has been referred to the Education and Employment Committee and its early learning and elementary education and secondary education and career development subcommittees, and the House Appropriations PreK-12 subcommittee.

Under the bill’s provisions a teacher would have to wear a microphone while teaching. Cameras would be installed in the front of classrooms. If a recording is interrupted in any way a written explanation must be filed. School principals would be the officials responsible for holding and administering the recordings and the bill specifies the circumstances under which recordings can be shared or deleted.

Rommel, who represents a legislative district running along coastal Collier County from Bonita Beach Road to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee, was quoted in a television news interview saying, “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. There are incidents, a teacher/student incident, and we want to make sure we protect everyone in the classroom.”

He pointed out that “It’s not live-streamed. So, the teacher’s privacy and how they teach their class is not going to be infringed on.”

(Editor’s note: The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel’s office requesting a telephone interview on this subject. As of this writing the request has neither been answered nor acknowledged.)

HB 1055 immediately raised questions from the Florida Education Association (FEA), the largest teachers’ union in the state.

In a statement, Andrew Spar, FEA president, stated: “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?”

There is also nothing in the bill discussing the cost of the surveillance or funding for implementation.

A variety of interested parties are already lining up to lobby on the bill including the Lake County School Board, Hillsborough County Schools, and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, although none had issued public statements on their positions as of this writing.

Yesterday, Jan. 13, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, weighed in on Twitter, stating: “omg no. Florida will not be a surveillance state!!!”

Commentary: Big Brother in the classroom

As though teachers are not under sufficient pressure now, between COVID, mask mandates, remote learning, school shootings, physical threats, anti-public education sentiment, charter school competition, and underfunding as well as low pay, low benefits and general lack of respect, under HB 1055 they would now be subject to constant surveillance in their classrooms.

“Morale is not high in education with teachers and this is just going to look to teachers as another way to catch them,” Angie Snow, an elementary educator in Hillsborough County, said in an interview broadcast on Tampa Bay 10 News. “An allegation is all it takes for a parent to get access and then there’s critiquing and criticizing of everything else.”

Indeed, the presumption behind HB 1055 appears to be that teachers are guilty of something and only the right video footage is needed to catch them.

With that in mind, HB 1055 has been carefully crafted to avoid appearing as part of the ideological assault on educators and school boards.

Although Rommel has espoused conservative, highly ideological views in all his campaigns and previous representation in Tallahassee, he’s couching this bill over concern about “incidents” in classrooms. These are defined in the bill as “an event, a circumstance, an act, or an omission that results in the abuse or neglect of a student” by another student or school employee. There have indeed been incidents of violence and altercations and even shootings in schools like Parkland.

But unlike police body cameras that routinely record footage of potentially violent, dangerous and evidentiary events, classrooms are—or should be—peaceful places. For the most part, what goes on in the vast majority of Florida classrooms the vast majority of the time is teaching and learning.

The extremely rare physical threat or altercation simply doesn’t justify the expense, the difficulty, and the complications—not to mention the simple indignity—of putting microphones on every teacher and installing video cameras in every classroom. If there’s an instance of violence and a security officer has to be called, his or her body camera should provide a sufficient record of any incident.

The real purpose of this legislation is to surveil teachers to punish them—or dangle the threat of punishment—for any heretical ideas they might impart in the classroom, with any party at all playing the role of accuser, inquisitor—and potentially, plaintiff.

HB 1055 fits in nicely with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed Anti-WOKE [Wrongs to our Kids and Employees] Act, giving anyone the ability to sue teachers for teaching critical race theory. Citing video evidence, no matter how far-fetched or flimsy, plaintiffs can head to court on any pretext to financially destroy underpaid teachers even if the plaintiff doesn’t win the case.

From a practical standpoint, there’s simply no need, on a daily, ongoing basis, to record every moment in every classroom—not to mention the Orwellian implications of constant monitoring.

While Rommel is at pains to note that camera footage would not be live-streamed and would have to be released by principals, the fact is that this bill is clearly driven by extreme opponents of classroom COVID precautions and content of which they disapprove—i.e., “wokeness” and critical race theory.

Indeed, in Naples, Rommel’s home district, the only praise for the bill has come from Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the farmer and grocer who in August on Facebook called for the “take down” of teachers’ unions by “force.” (Oakes subsequently stated in an interview with The Paradise Progressive that he meant only by legal means.)

“If these teachers have nothing to hide they shouldn’t mind!” he stated on Facebook on Jan. 1.

This is a bad idea and a bad bill that should not get past the subcommittee stage.

*  *  *

To register an opinion on HB 1055, contact the following legislators (e-mails can be sent through their linked pages):

Education Committee

Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee

Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee

PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee

The full text of HB 1055 can be read here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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One thought on “Naples Rep. Bob Rommel pushes Big Brother in Florida classrooms–Updated

  1. Given that most people can’t even define what CRT is, or don’t know that it’s not even being taught in public primary schools, we can only imagine how many frivolous lawsuits will be filed. This bill is just one more step Republicans are taking to destroy our public school system. Just another authoritarian move by Kim Jong-Ron.

    Like

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