MOORLACH UPDATE — Student Whistleblower Protection Bill — April 14, 2017

Allow me to wish you a solemn Good Friday and a wonderful Easter weekend.

Senate Bill 677 caught the attention of the epicenter of its genesis. The Editor-in-Chief of the OCC Coast Reporter conducted the interview and did an admirable job of providing a number of the talking points in the piece below. (Also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Senate Bill 677 — April 6, 2017 april 6, 2017 john moorlach).

Just a quick recap, currently all classes are forbidden for recording, unless the instructor permits it. It should be the reverse, all classes should be recordable, unless the instructor prohibits it. But, we now have an awkward incident that occurred at OCC that should be used as a learning experience.

When you search "workplace whistleblower policy," you receive a robust number of links. Do the same for "student whistleblower policy," and you come up with goose eggs. We spend significant sums of money on our children’s education not to have our students threatened, intimidated, harassed or otherwise mistreated. You expect the same protections from your employer. We need to protect students from retaliation, just like we protect employees. SB 677 attempts to address this need.

OCC scandal spurs Senate bill

A state Senate bill has been introduced to protect student whistleblower rights.

Clayton Spivey, Editor-in-Chief

A state Senate bill designed to protect student whistleblowers and give them the right to film their instructors was introduced in light of Orange Coast College’s scandal involving a professor’s recorded comments about President Donald J. Trump.

California State Sen. John Moorlach, who represents California’s 37th district which includes OCC, introduced Senate Bill 677 on Feb. 17 and published an official draft on March 23.

According to Moorlach, the Student Whistleblower Protection Bill is aimed at providing community college students with protections against penalties should they record and report an instructor doing something that violates their duties as an educator.

“The bill provides transparency. I think that instructors should be really proud of their work product and having them recorded is actually a compliment,” Moorlach said. “There should be a remedy available to those who feel they’re going to suffer retaliation because the instructor is in full control of their grade.”

According to Moorlach, the bill was inspired when OCC’s human sexuality professor Olga Perez Stable Cox was recorded on camera making disparaging remarks about Trump right after his election. Specifically, Moorlach said he is concerned with the safety of student whistleblowers like student Caleb O’Neil who was originally suspended for filming Cox’s comments when he felt threatened.

While the idea for the bill came after the incident, Moorlach said he wasn’t concerned with Cox’s actual comments. Rather, he said, the concern is with the prospect of a student witnessing something in a classroom that significantly deviated from the curriculum of the class. Under current education code, Moorlach said there is no real protection for students reporting such an incident.

“What happens when an instructor strays from the curriculum or the syllabus? What if a student decided to punch the teacher and the other students were not allowed to use their iPhones to catch that incident live,” Moorlach said.

Catherine Bird, Moorlach’s legislative director, said the bill is going through the legislative process and was double referred after it was introduced to the State Senate. According to Bird, when a bill is double referred it means that it must clear two committees. Bird said that the first will be April 25 in the judiciary committee and, should it pass, move into the education committee the following day.

When asked what he thinks of the chance the bill becomes law, Moorlach said it won’t be easy getting through the senate due to the Democratic Party’s super majority.

“I think I have an uphill climb,” Moorlach said.

According to Moorlach, a member of the Republican Party, Sacramento is owned by the public employee unions who primarily donate to the Democratic Party. He said he fully expects the California teachers unions not to support it.

Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said the FACCC opposes Moorlach’s proposed legislation. The FACCC is issuing a formal letter of opposition to the bill which will be included in the arguments against it at upcoming committee hearings.

In defense of the current education code, Lightman said that filming things happening within a classroom is dangerous since it can’t be reflective of the entirety of the course or even a particular class period and could be taken out of context.

The great thing about higher education is that the students are challenged by different ideas and are taught by someone who should be an expert in the subject they are teaching, Lightman said.

“The real question is do we want our classes in higher education to be taught by those with a robust understanding of their field even if it means that it may conflict with where some of the student are, or not,” Lightman said.

While Moorlach understood that many may oppose the bill, he said they should find it useful to their cause. Moorlach said that education is in the iPhone age and that filming of lectures should be expected.

“To cling to the idea that we can’t be recorded is almost as if you are out of touch. Culture is changing,” Moorlach said. “To hold onto the idea you can punish students for recording is arcane.”

As the bill waits to be voted on in the senate committees, Moorlach is taking the time to reach out to familiar faces at OCC. Both OCC President Dennis Harkins and Moorlach have confirmed they will meet for lunch Friday and plan on discussing the bill.

Speaking about Moorlach’s bid to give student’s the ability to record and report things that happen within the classroom, Harkins said that his focus is not simply that the teacher’s privacy be maintained but that the student is afforded that same right.

Harkins referenced a student who was caught on the video of Cox and could be seen and heard speaking about marijuana use. According to Harkins, comments like those not being public knowledge is the reason for the current law.

“The current policy protects students and their privacy and I think that it’s important that that be maintained,” Harkins said.

According to Harkins, while the privacy of the students should be of the utmost importance, he said that he has complete faith that the legislators in California will balance the rights of students and the rights of the public employees.


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