Republican State Rep. Norlin Mommsen made headlines — national headlines — last week with his proposed bill that would require cameras inside Iowa classrooms. While the issue can get pretty heated pretty quickly, Mommsen said his intent was to continue a flame sparked by COVID.
“What I have been excited about is the new engagement I have seen from parents,” he said. “COVID has been a terrible thing and very hard on our education system, but when we went to remote learning, it re-engaged parents in the education of our children and I think that’s what has been missing. So, my goal is to take what we’ve learned from COVID and continue that on and nurture that engagement. I think that would be greatly beneficial for the education of our children.”
Mommsen said he’s spent eight years in the Iowa legislature and has gone to a number of school board meetings through the years.
“I’m usually the only extra person there,” he said. “To me, when it’s something as important as education, I think parents need to be involved. It bothered me. I have seen an engagement and I think we need to take this opportunity and find a way to reengage our parents. It’s that simple. There’s no sinister motive, no nothing.”
Mommsen acknowledged that, short of his parents, teachers are the most influential people in his life.
“I can say nothing bad about teachers,” he said. “They’re great people and do a wonderful job. I think we have an opportunity here and I don’t want to waste it.”
As for the furor from the Iowa State Education Association, Mommsen said it was predictable. The president of the ISEA called the bill outrageous and dangerous, noting its intent is to further insult public education professionals.
“I’ll gladly go down that road. And I can understand why they are so upset. I mean, the national teachers’ union feels that parents that are engaged are terrorists,” Mommsen said. “And I would not want a terrorist in my room. I mean, so if you take the position that they have vocally stated, along with the national government, yes, it makes perfect sense. And, If you’re going to call people that are engaged terrorists, you’re darn right you wouldn’t want them.
“I’m starting from a whole different spot saying parents are partners, not terrorists. I think they lose their credibility when they have already called engaged parents terrorists.”
While ISEA alleged the intent of the bill is to insult public education professionals, Mommsen said nobody from that organization or the Iowa Association of School Boards has talked with him to ask what’s behind the bill.
“All they did was sit down and write their talking points,” he said.
An email from an Iowa grandparent thanked Mommsen for introducing the bill due to the fact when school is over the grandkids visit.
“They were looking at it as an opportunity to know what their grandchildren had learned at school and then they could help with classwork or be more involved in that area,” Mommsen said. “I know the new math, I don’t know how to do it. I’ve tried.”
The bill has a subcommittee scheduled for Wednesday. Its fate remains to be seen, but the important part is having the conversation.
“You throw it out for discussion — that’s how our system works,” Mommsen said. “Now the process will either make it better or throw it out. We most definitely have to have a discussion and that’s the intent. I think we need to capitalize on this opportunity for education.”