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North Carolina superintendent race reignites controversial debate over cameras in classrooms


The controversial issue of whether to require cameras in classrooms has emerged as a flashpoint in the politically charged race to be the top public education official in North Carolina.

Republican candidate Michele Morrow — a conservative activist with a history of incendiary online comments and who attended the Stop the Steal rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot — has called for classroom cameras as part of a campaign that more broadly advocates for so-called parental rights. Her Democratic opponent, Mo Green, the former superintendent of the third-largest school district in the state, has opposed cameras.

The issue has helped define the starkly different candidates in the contest to become North Carolina’s superintendent of public instruction — a job that oversees the state’s public schools, along with a $12 billion budget and 1.4 million students — in a race that has already featured the unearthing of Morrow’s past support for conspiracy theories and explosive social media posts.

“We have got to have a video surveillance system. That is not only going to protect our students, it’s going to protect our teachers as well,” Morrow said in a February interview with the “Real Talk Podcast,” a political show that focuses on law enforcement issues, “so that we can actually see what’s happening in the classrooms.”

During another interview that month, she painted her support for video surveillance in public school classrooms as part of a strategy to make schools “the safest buildings in our entire state.”

“We need metal detectors or weapons detection systems, and we need video surveillance in our schools,” she said in a February interview with a conservative political action committee.

Responding to questions from NBC News about whether she felt putting cameras in classrooms risked bad actors taking advantage of the footage, Morrow said cameras in the classroom “can be useful” for “deterring misbehavior or violence in the classroom, or preventing antisemitism or bullying,” but that approving funding for them would fall to the Legislature.

Green said in an email to NBC News he would work to make public schools “safe” places “where parents are engaged,” but that surveillance cameras were not necessary to achieve those goals.

The race is only the latest political battleground over public education. Seizing on anger over required masking and other policies put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, Republican officials and candidates at various levels of government across the country have put an increased focus on public school classrooms, pushing to ban certain books and the teaching of critical race theory.

It’s part of a broader push by conservatives for “parental rights,” a message that gained traction in recent years following Republican Glenn Youngkin’s surprise 2021 win in the Virginia governor’s race.

Some Republicans have included in their advocacy for parental rights a push to require cameras in classrooms — a move supporters say would provide parents the opportunity to see, in real time in some cases, exactly what their children are being taught. Other advocates say cameras are needed to keep schools more safe from mass shootings.

Critics note that a system of videotaping children would open up the arena of public education to a litany of security concerns, including worries over privacy, hacking and child safety. Teachers and teachers advocates have criticized the effort as one designed to censor classrooms and intimidate educators who focus on subjects such as race and history.

Long history of stoking controversy

Morrow, a nurse who home-schooled her own children, has a well-documented history of making controversial remarks about education and many other topics.

She’s pushed to remove critical race theory and diversity and inclusion efforts from public school classrooms. She has pledged during the superintendent race to “eliminate progressive indoctrination in schools” and has accused public school educators of “teaching children to hate our country” and of teaching “transgender theory.”

Asked whether she stood by those comments, Morrow wrote in an email to NBC News that “there are North Carolina programs that train teachers to disseminate a one-sided view of America as a racist, colonizing, and malevolent force in the world — a highly dystopian view,” and that in North Carolina, “we have preschool children being taught that men can get pregnant, and transgender flags being displayed where the American Flag used to hang in elementary school hallways.”

Morrow has previously called public schools “socialism centers” and “indoctrination centers” and said in 2022 that “the whole plan of the education system from day one has actually been to kind of control the thinking of our young people.” She’s urged North Carolina parents not to send their children to public schools.

In a 2020 social media post, she said she’d support the public execution of former President Barack Obama, writing, “I prefer a Pay Per View of him in front of the firing squad,” and, “We could make some money back from televising his death.”

In another post later that year, she suggested she’d support the killing of President Joe Biden, responding to his suggestion that people remain masked by writing, “kill all traitors.”

She’s defended those tweets — which were first reported by CNN — as recently as last month.

In other social media posts from 2019 to 2021, Morrow wrote about executing other Democrats for treason, including Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

She’s attacked LGBTQ rights, has posted that the U.S. should “ban Islam,” and has touted on social media various QAnon conspiracy theories, including the claim that celebrities harvest the blood of children.

Morrow scored an upset victory in the North Carolina superintendent GOP primary last month, defeating incumbent Catherine Truitt.

Meanwhile, Green, an attorney who has previously worked as a public school superintendent and for an education foundation, has run a fairly traditional Democratic campaign based primarily on increasing state funding for public education.

Mo Green, the Democratic nominee for state superintendent, speaks at the state party headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., on March 21, 2024.
Mo Green, the Democratic nominee for state superintendent, speaks at the state party headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., on March 21.Travis Long / News & Observer via Getty Images)

In an email to NBC News, Green cast Morrow as a candidate with “a very dark and extreme view of our education system in North Carolina.”

“Because she has no experience as a public school educator and little exposure to North Carolina public schools, she believes dangerous conspiracy theories about the public education system that are just plain wrong,” Green wrote. “Public schools are not indoctrination centers that should be surveilled, as my opponent claims.”

Conservative momentum for classroom cameras

Morrow is only the latest Republican to push for cameras in the classroom.

Republican lawmakers this year alone introduced bills in at least five states to put or require cameras in classrooms, they say for the purposes of either increasing curriculum transparency or improving school safety. Individual districts in many states have already put in place similar measures in recent years, while a handful of states have enacted laws requiring cameras in special education classrooms. A group called Nevada Family Alliance in 2021 proposed placing body cameras on teachers to ensure they aren’t teaching critical race theory.

Meanwhile, public education has also emerged as one of the top issues in the race for governor in North Carolina — which will also serve as a battleground in the presidential race — where a bitter fight over expanding school voucher programs has fallen mostly along partisan lines.

National education leaders nevertheless singled out Morrow for her position on cameras — as well as for her many other past controversial statements.

“Parents want leaders to focus on smaller class sizes, safe schools and ensuring students have the resources needed to succeed. Sadly, these days too many extreme politicians are focused on banning books and taking away learning opportunities for students,” said Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, the largest educators union in the U.S.

Morrow, she added, “stands out amongst them in her calls for political violence, demands to spy on school children, amplification of QAnon conspiracy theories, and attacks on public schools.”


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