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Iowa bill would require cameras in public school classrooms

A similar bill was proposed in Florida last month. Critics and teachers advocates say the bills are designed to censor classrooms and intimidate educators.
Security camera
Manusapon Kasosod / Getty Images

Conservative lawmakers in Iowa introduced a bill this week that would require cameras to be installed in nearly every K-12 school classroom across the state, allowing parents to see livestreams.

Teachers advocates have criticized the effort as one designed to censor classrooms and intimidate educators who focus on subjects such as race and history

The bill is the latest to be introduced by conservative legislators in states across the U.S., including Florida, who have launched efforts against what they say is critical race theory.

The Iowa bill, H.F. 2177, would require that cameras be placed in every public school classroom in the state, except for physical education and special education classes.

The cameras would feed to livestreams that could be viewed on the internet by parents, guardians and others.

Under the bill, teachers, administrators and other school staff members who fail to keep the cameras active and in working order or who “obstruct” the camera’s views could be fined up to 5 percent of their weekly salary per infraction. The cameras would be bought with funds already allocated to school districts.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Norlin Mommsen, a Republican who represents a rural district in eastern Iowa, comes amid a monthslong effort by state GOP lawmakers that critics say aims to limit what is allowed to be taught in public school classrooms.

Mommsen said the primary purpose of his bill is to “increase the involvement of parents in their children’s education.”

Education groups and unions immediately condemned the legislation as censorship.

"Some politicians around the country want to limit not only what history our kids can learn about and what books they can read, censor the truth of our history in some cases, and, now in Iowa, they want to install classroom cameras for live monitoring of teachers," said Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, the largest educators union in the U.S.

“Instead of wasting public funds on monitoring equipment, we should employ additional qualified professionals, reduce class sizes, and provide more programming that helps students acquire the skills they need,” Pringle said by email.

Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek called the bill “completely outrageous and dangerous.”

Conservative groups that have been involved in efforts to ban the teaching of what they call critical race theory in public schools across the country have also recently proposed other bills that critics say are designed to regulate how and what educators may teach.

Meanwhile, public school administrators have been left to navigate tricky education politics intensified by state and national forces.

One such group, the Nevada Family Alliance, recently proposed placing body cameras on teachers to ensure they aren’t teaching critical race theory.

In the first three weeks of the year, more than 70 bills have been filed in 27 states to regulate the instruction of topics such as race, history and sexuality, according to an analysis published this week by PEN America, a free speech advocacy group. Advocates have said the sheer number of bills — as well as how severe many of them would be — is part of a robust effort by conservative lawmakers in GOP-controlled states to censor lessons surrounding those topics.

In some cases, the topics have been inaccurately described as “critical race theory” — the concept developed in the 1980s as a graduate-level academic framework to highlight and quantify the impacts of structural racism, including disparities among Black people and white people in policing and prosecution. It was rarely something likely to be taught in a school classroom.

Critics say some conservatives, including politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and early opponent of critical race theory, have applied the term to ideas and books that they believe are too progressive or political for the classroom.

Last month, Republican lawmakers in Florida introduced a bill similar to the Iowa proposal, H.B. 1055, that would require cameras in classrooms and require teachers to wear microphones. 

While the Florida legislation’s stated goal is to allow for more easily obtainable evidence of bullying or fighting in classrooms, a co-sponsor, Republican state Rep. Mike Beltran, said this month that the bill is designed to make sure teachers are “teaching the kids properly.”

Teachers groups and unions in the state have blasted the legislation as a tool for conservative lawmakers to “spy” on them.

Missouri state Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, a vocal critic of critical race theory, last year called for legislation to require teachers to wear body cameras as a way for parents to object to what they're teaching.

Republican-led legislatures in Georgia, Texas and West Virginia have all passed laws in recent years allowing cameras in classrooms, under certain conditions.