MOORLACH UPDATE — Senate Bill 677 — April 6, 2017

I’m not one to pursue legislation as a result of a recent event. The perception of pursuing the "soup of the day" or "ambulance chasing" has always frustrated me when watching legislators. An incident occurred at Orange Coast College (OCC) that garnered national attention and it was not handled well, due to awkward and unclear state code sections.

So, I proposed Senate Bill 677 after spending considerable time with many of the impacted parties, or their representatives, in this recent free speech conundrum. OCC is a block or two from my home, two of my kids attended it, and I have had relationships with many in its leadership for a number of years (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Free Speech Conundrums — February 16, 2017 february 16, 2017 john moorlach).

The incident exposed a significant defect in current law that should be remedied. In the internet age, most community college instructors have no qualms with recording their lectures and posting them for student access. In unique circumstances, where the topic may be too sensitive, they are not to be recorded. But, when there is style drift or abuse, a remedy for whistleblowers must be available. The College Fix announces our bill in the piece below.

Calif. bill would provide whistleblower protection to students who record classroom activity

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Right now, a state law in California forbids classroom recordings, but one lawmaker is working to carve out protections for student whistleblowers.

Republican state Sen. John Moorlach recently introduced legislation that would protect students who record classroom activity when they believe it violates state or federal laws or campus policies.

“It is our legislative fix to clarify whistleblower protections for students who feel harassed, intimidated, or threatened in an educational setting,” Catherine Bird, Moorlach’s legislative director, told The College Fix via email.

The bill is in direct response to the recent situation at Orange Coast College in which a student was suspended for recording his professor’s anti-Trump rant.

Instructor Olga Perez Stable Cox told her human sexuality class of Trump’s election “we have been assaulted, it’s an act of terrorism,” among other comments. She also called Donald Trump a “white supremacist” and said Mike Pence is “one of the most anti-gay humans in this country.”

Caleb O’Neil, a member of the College Republicans and an open Trump supporter who had worn pro-Trump clothing leading up to the election, recorded his professor’s comments.

“I was fearful of my grade,” O’Neil has said, adding he felt personally targeted by the professor, as if she were putting him on notice.

O’Neil gave the video to his College Republican peers, who then uploaded it on YouTube. The video went viral and ultimately led to O’Neil’s suspension. He was reinstated after an uproar.

A fact sheet on Senate Bill 677 states:

Educational institutions often limit the recording of classroom activities. One of these “no recording” policies was recently used to protect an instructor who was publicly shaming students and to punish the student who attempted to bring transparency to the situation.

These recording policies go too far when they attempt to silence the truth. Senate Bill 677 would ensure that students who witness activities in the classroom which violate state or federal law or regulation and/or a local agency policy are free to document and report the situation to the necessary authorities or to the media, including social media.

In an educational environment, students should feel the freedom to question their instructors — and even more so, should be protected when they seek to expose activities which violate laws or school policies. Senate Bill 677 is patterned after the whistleblower protection given to employees in the workplace, which are some of the best protections in the nation. Just as employees must feel free to document and report violations in the workplace, students must be given the same protection and freedom to ensure that professors and administrators are not using their authority to silence those with differing opinions.

The bill is slated for an April 19 hearing.

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