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Iowa House Republicans Vote To Ban 'Divisive Concepts' In Schools, Government Diversity Training

John Pemble
IPR file
Republicans in the Iowa House passed a bill to ban any school curriculum and mandatory government agency diversity training that would “teach, advocate, act upon, or promote divisive concepts.”

Republicans in the Iowa House passed a bill Tuesday evening to ban any school curriculum and mandatory government agency diversity training that would “teach, advocate, act upon, or promote divisive concepts.”

Ideas that would be off limits include, “that the U.S. and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist,” and “that an individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, said he has faced racism as an Asian-American. He supports diversity training, but he’s concerned about how it’s conducted.

“To say that we teach diversity by talking about that the United States and Iowa are fundamentally—which means at its root—systemically, racist or sexist? I don’t believe that,” Stone said.

During Tuesday’s debate, Republican lawmakers expanded the scope of the bill. It originally applied to public universities and schools, but now it applies to all state and local government agencies, too.

Democrats said they could agree on some of the prohibited teachings, including “that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” and “any other form of race or sex stereotyping.”

But Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill over concerns that it would prevent implicit bias training, and deny the existence of white privilege and systemic racism.

That is canceling reality,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. “That is closing our eyes and trying to pretend that if we don’t say ‘implicit bias,’ it doesn’t exist. Or if we don’t say ‘systemic racism,’ we can pretend we don’t have that.”

The “divisive concepts” legislation is similar to an executive order from former President Donald Trump, which was blocked by a federal court and then rescinded by President Joe Biden.

Republican lawmakers said the bill would not stop diversity trainings, or prevent trainers and teachers from answering questions about these “divisive concepts” and discussing them in a broader academic context.

Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, has worked as a diversity and inclusion educator. He said the bill would have a chilling effect on teaching some aspects of the country’s history.

“If you’re not able to plan these conversations and bring them up with intentionality, that’s when disrespectful comments can happen,” Wilburn said.

The Iowa House also passed a bill nearly unanimously that directs the state’s public universities and community colleges to provide training related to free speech rights.

The Senate passed a bill last week that includes the free speech training legislation and bans mandatory diversity training that promotes “divisive concepts” at public schools and colleges.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter