Bill requiring cameras in Iowa classrooms stalls

DES MOINES — A bill that would have required Iowa public schools to install cameras in classrooms so parents could watch a livestream has been tabled in the Iowa House.

Representative Ray Sorenson, a Republican from Greenfield, said it lacked the votes to clear a House subcommittee.

“This bill will not be moving,” said Sorenson, the subcommittee’s chairman announced before speaking with reporters in the room. “…I was never in support of it. I think it needs a lot better fencing if we’re going to do something like that and a lot better explanation and a lot more time, honestly, to hear from the public on what something like that would look like strictly from a fiscal standpoint on what would it cost to put cameras in classrooms.”

Sorenson had intended to hold a subcommittee hearing to let the bill’s sponsor and others discuss the bill, but one member of the panel was absent due to illness and rescheduling the hearing before a February 18 deadline was difficult.

“I think we’ve got next year and this campaign bill to visit about this bill,” Sorenson said, “whether the public likes it or not.”

Republican Representative Norlin Mommsen of DeWitt, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters he’s disappointed the hearing was cancelled.

“I think what is important is the conversation takes place and that’s what I was trying to provoke here was a conversation,” Mommsen said, “because when I look at like the remote learning, it did spark parental interest in what was going on in the schools and that’s what I was trying to nurture and continue on was that, take what we learned and expand upon it.”

Mommsen was hoping to testify about his bill and was in the room as Sorenson announced the hearing would not be held. “We need parents involved. I think that’s one of the issues that are missing today,” Mommsen said. “I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t have that conversation because then all ideas get thrown on the table and that was the goal here.”

Mommsen indicated that after he introduced the bill, the superintendent of Central DeWitt, his local school district, has promised to provide more transparency to parents.

“I believe my home district is looking basically down the same road I was trying to go down, maybe a different method, but you know that’s why we’re here,” Mommsen said. “…It’s a big meat grinder and who knows what comes out the other end.”

In addition to the cost of installing cameras in classrooms and upgrading livestreaming capacity in schools, opponents of the bill raised privacy concerns about showing students on camera. Mommsen said his intent was to have the camera point to the front of the class.

“I would not want anybody’s children to be shown on the camera. I think that’d be wrong. When I look at the security issues, we had remote learning. I look at it like remote learning, but one way, you know,” Mommsen said. “I did not hear any security issues there. I mean, couldn’t the parents see the children? I thought that was the case.”

Mommsen, a farmer, has been a member of the Iowa House since January of 2015 and is seeking reelection to a fifth term.