A presentation on new districts at the congressional, state and county levels made to the Collier County Democratic Party on May 11, 2022.
Hours before this scheduled presentation, Judge Layne Smith of Leon County, Fla., struck down the governor’s congressional redistricting map. The fate of Florida’s congressional districts remains undecided at this time.
Florida teachers can rest assured that they will not have to wear microphones and be subject to video surveillance in their classrooms—at least for the rest of this year.
That’s because the Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, House Bill (HB) 1055, in the Florida legislature died at the end of the legislative session.
It was not given a hearing or considered for passage during the three-month legislative session.
The bill was introduced on Dec. 28 last year by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples). It required that Florida public school teachers wear microphones and be watched by video cameras in their classrooms.
Following its first reading on Jan. 11, the bill was referred to two subcommittees of the Florida House Education and Employment Committee: the early learning and elementary education subcommittee and the secondary education and career development subcommittee. It was also referred to the House Appropriations preK-12 appropriations subcommittee.
In a Feb. 11 message to constituents, Rommel stated:
“On any given school day in the Sunshine State, over 2.5 million kids attend our public schools. That doesn’t even include kids in private school or homeschool.
“We have more school children than 15 other states have people. Our children must have a world-class education and we must take every precaution to keep them safe. Safe from bullying, safe from abuse, and safe from teachers with an ideological agenda.
“The key is to make our classrooms transparent and accountable. That’s why I filed legislation this year to put security cameras in every classroom in Florida.
“While the radical Left wants to take control of our kids, conservatives want to keep parents in charge. In Florida, we protect parents’ rights and we don’t have an income tax. Let’s keep it that way.”
The Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee was the lead subcommittee to consider it. When it didn’t consider the bill, HB 1055 was withdrawn from consideration on Saturday, March 12, after the official end of the legislative session and then officially declared dead on Monday, March 14.
During its short life span HB 1055 came in for blistering criticism from teachers’ unions and education experts.
“Did you ever read 1984? Big Brother is not the way to encourage learners to grapple with difficult issues, learn critical thinking and become active informed, voting citizens of our democracy. What you propose can only limit thinking, discussion and learning for students who will become the leaders of the future,” wrote Madelon Stewart, an education activist, in a Jan. 31 op-ed in the Fort Myers News-Press.
“You may try to justify this undemocratic law as an attempt to root out ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ however, you are, in fact, creating what you purport to fear. You say you eschew government overreach, but common sense tells us that what you propose will do nothing positive and that, in fact, you are planning to control learning, freedom of speech and thought,” she wrote.
“I believe there are some people in the public arena who are trying to create a mistrust, not just of teachers, but of public education in general,” Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association told NewsJax 4 in Jacksonville when the bill was introduced. “It’s just noise, it’s a distraction from the real issues of staff shortages and the lack of meaningful pay. We need to trust our educators again.”
“It’s just a lot of energy wasted on something that is wrongheaded, destructive to a profession that’s already in low morale,” Vicki Kidwell, president of the Clay County Education Association, told the same TV station. “We [the teachers] are made out to be villains and we don’t see the energy being put into fixing the problems that we have.”
The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel to ask if he plans to re-file this bill next year and if he would make any changes to it. To date no answer has been received.
New district lines
Rommel has announced that he will be running for the Florida House again this year. However, he will be facing a different constituency due to new House district lines.
Rommel’s current 106th district stretches along the Gulf coast from Bonita Beach Road in Lee County to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee.
However, under new district maps passed by the Florida House, the 106th District has been altered and split.
The northern new district, the 80th, runs along the coast from the Lee County-Charlotte County line in the north to Immokalee Rd. in Collier County in the south. It includes Boca Grande, Pine Island and Sanibel Island.
The new southern district, the 81st, runs along the coast from Immokalee Rd. to Marco Island and includes Naples.
This more closely conforms to Rommel’s existing district and he has already stated that he will be running there for both the Aug. 23rd primary and Nov. 8th general election.
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.
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To register an opinion on HB 1055, contact the following legislators (e-mails can be sent through their linked pages):
Sara McFadden at the Naples women’s march, Jan. 18, 2020. (Photo: Author)
May 7, 2020 by David Silverberg
Updated May 8, 2020 with additional petition number.
Sara Doyle McFadden, Democratic candidate for Florida State House District 106, announced today that she had collected sufficient petition signatures to qualify for a place on the general election ballot in November.
The state requires signatures equaling 1 percent of a district’s population to qualify. That comes to 1,131 signatures in the 106th District, allowing McFadden to avoid a $1,781.82 filing fee. McFadden submitted 1,156 signatures.
“We clearly benefited from our network of enthusiastic and hardworking volunteers when, due to the current social limitations, the law changed the end of March to allow electronic images,” said McFadden in a statement.
Once certified by the Florida Division of Elections, McFadden will appear on the November general election ballot in opposition to incumbent Republican Bob Rommel.
McFadden’s collection of petitions was hampered by the Coronavirus pandemic but a change in Florida election rules allowed digital signatures to be submitted.
“This was a tremendous task due to the restrictions placed on all of us by the pandemic,” said Dave Carpenter, qualifying officer for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections, who accepted McFadden’s petitions.
The District and candidates
The 106th District runs from the Collier County line in the north all the way through Naples and Marco Island to Chokaloskee in the south. On the east it’s mostly bordered by Livingston Rd., in its northern portion and Route 41 in its southern portion. It’s the most heavily populated strip of Collier County.
The area has a total population of 155,388, according to an official Florida House profile based on the 2010 census. Of that population, 91.3 percent is white, with Hispanics making up the largest ethnic population at 10.1 percent. People aged from 65 to 69 years old make up the largest age group at 10.4 percent of the total population. Women outnumber men, 52 percent to 48 percent.
McFadden, originally from New Jersey, has a bachelor degree in English literature from Georgian Court University in Lakewood, NJ. Before moving to Florida, she served as Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrative Manager for the American International Group and also worked for the New Jersey Disability Insurance Service. She has been very active in local civic and community groups and organizations.
Rommel was first elected to the Florida House in 2016 for a two-year term. Also originally from New Jersey, he owned a mortgage company, which he sold before moving to Southwest Florida, and then ran three restaurants, two in Lee County and the other in New Jersey. He ran for the Florida House in 2016 after Kathleen Passidomo went to the Florida Senate.
McFadden challenged Rommel in 2018 and was defeated by 66.5 percent to 33.5 percent.
Aside from their New Jersey origins, McFadden and Rommel have virtually nothing in common—especially politically.
McFadden’s positions mark her as a moderate Democrat who promotes “focused leadership and practical solutions.”
She believes healthcare is a basic human right and supports Medicaid expansion.
“Our state’s healthcare priorities are a national embarrassment—opioid addiction is killing our citizens and making orphans of our children—we are 50th in providing mental health care, our jails are our largest mental health facilities,” McFadden states on her website. “We need to increase funding for mental health in Florida, which remains at the bottom of all 50 states, despite the pittance awarded in 2018 in the last session of the state legislature.”
On the environment, she calls for Everglades restoration, a clean environment and water, and opposes fracking and pollution.
Rommel follows the general conservative ideological line, pledging on his website to “fight the bureaucrats who stifle businesses from creating jobs.” He advocates cutting taxes, and when it comes to education, ensuring that students master “the basics” and maintain “classroom discipline.” He is also chair of the Florida Conservative Committee political action committee (PAC), which he created and which gives him control of campaign funds for other candidates.
In an April 11 op-ed that appeared in the Naples Daily News and News-Press, Rommel advocated opening up Florida’s economy despite the continuing—and then-mounting—Coronavirus pandemic, arguing that “socialism and socialist policies are causing lesser healthcare systems to fail.”
During the petition drive McFadden was concerned for the health and safety of her volunteers, saying “…they were all so willing and passionate to help, I was constantly asking if they were using safe practices, and they were very patient with me. I’m very grateful to all of them. Qualifying by petition is as American as you can get—your neighbors are vouching for you!”