© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Iowa House Oversight Republicans Blast Ames School Officials For One-Week 'Black Lives Matter' Curriculum

John Pemble
IPR file
Republican lawmakers on the House Government Oversight Committee questioned and berated Ames school officials about classroom materials related to their “Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.”

Republican lawmakers on the House Government Oversight Committee spent nearly two hours Tuesday questioning and berating Ames school officials about classroom materials related to their “Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.”

The lessons about race and gender equity lasted for one week at the start of Black History Month, and parents were able to opt their kids out of this instruction.

Ames Community School District officials said the inclusive curriculum was part of an effort to reduce bullying of Black and LGBTQ students, and help improve mental health and academic outcomes.

“This work was about centering Black students, letting them know we hear them, we see them, we care about them, and we appreciate them,” said Ames district Director of Equity Anthony Jones.

Officials also explained the district is not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter organization.

But Republican lawmakers on the committee said they had received complaints from some parents and a handful of teachers about some of the main principles taught during the week, as well as some of the learning materials available for teachers to choose from.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, criticized one document available to teachers. He said it’s “garbage” and “inaccurate” to teach kids that there are racist motivations behind some voting restrictions, though that has been well documented throughout U.S. history.

“By having crap like this—the very equity that you’re trying to achieve—there’s being created a new inequity,” Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann and a few other GOP lawmakers accused the Ames district of “indoctrinating” students and creating division by presenting “one-sided” learning materials.

“So what would be the other side of Black Lives mattering?” Ames school board member Monic Behnken asked.

Kaufmann said the other side would be not teaching that passing certain voting laws—like the ones he has taken the lead on—is racist.

Jeff Hawkins, ACSD Executive Director of Education, said the classroom resources posted on the district’s website were options of materials teachers could choose from, and don’t necessarily reflect exactly what was taught.

Committee Chair Rep. Holly Brink, R-Oskaloosa, accused district officials of providing lessons that weren’t age-appropriate, highlighting a vocabulary list and video that Brink said were used in classrooms to teach about acceptance of queer and trans individuals.

Brink described alleged incidents of bullying and teachers fearing for their jobs as a result of pushing back against parts of the curriculum.

Hawkins said the district wasn’t aware of the complaints because they were not reported to the schools.

“I asked [the principals], ‘Were there situations in which a parent expressed concern about what happened in a classroom?’ Zero responses about what happened in the classroom as a concern,” Hawkins said.

He said those who wished to opt their students out of this instruction were accommodated, and he didn’t hear reports of students being bullied for leaving the classroom.

Jones and Ames Superintendent Jenny Risner described how the Black Lives Matter at School curriculum was developed in response to data and community concerns about racial disparities in mental health issues and academic performance.

“Every single day, our curriculum favors one nuclear family, one gender,” Risner said. “That’s what we’re missing here…that every day our curriculum is geared toward the group you’re talking about. And because this is controversial, then we’re not supposed to provide acceptance and space for those students?”

Risner said students are experiencing severe mental health challenges.

“And so it is my job, ethically and morally, to ensure that I am doing everything I can to set a space for those students where they feel loved, accepted and safe,” Risner said.

Brink said school officials need to listen more to the parents who complained about the curriculum.

“The theories and principles behind here are not all wrong,” Brink said. “But the way it was handled is definitely concerning in the fact that people called attention to it, and it still moved forward.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter