© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

House finalizes Reynolds’ bill banning LGBTQ topics in K-6 classrooms

Natalie Krebs
IPR file
Instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation would be banned under a bill passed by the Iowa legislature that also sets a standard for books in schools that says they cannot contain sexual content.

The Iowa House has agreed to the Senate version of an education bill prohibiting teachers from offering any curriculum or instruction that relates to sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through sixth grade.

The vote sends the bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her signature.

If she approves the legislation (SF 496) as expected, Iowa would be the latest Republican-led state to expand on a Florida law passed last year that opponents dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” It also comes after Iowa lawmakers passed bills restricting transgender students’ access to school bathrooms that align with their gender identity and prohibiting gender-affirming medical treatments for minors.

The bill passed in the Iowa House Thursday goes beyond LGBTQ topics in schools. It also:

  • Sets a standard for “age appropriate” books that would require schools to remove books that contain any description or image of a sex act.
  • Removes a specific requirement to cover AIDS and HPV as part of health curriculum on sexually transmitted diseases. They can still be taught, but are not required.
  • Requires advance written consent from a parent before a student must take a health survey that is not required by state or federal law.
  • Requires schools to publish an online catalog of all library books available to students.
  • Makes the identity of a parent who requests the removal of a book or classroom material confidential.
  • Prohibits schools from including students on book review committees.
  • Ensures a student can change schools within their district if they have been bullied or harassed by another student.

The bill also says if any student asks for gender affirming accommodations at school, a parent must be informed.

Republicans say that measure comes in response to a policy that was adopted in the Linn-Mar school district last year that allowed some students to keep their transgender identity private. Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull, said the bill keeps parents in the loop if their child comes out at school.

“Parents are going to be informed if something drastic is happening with their child at school,” Wheeler said. “The school does not have the right to keep secrets from them.”

Democrats said the bill will further isolate transgender students and could put them in danger since there is no exception allowing confidentiality in cases where the student fears they may face retaliation from home.

They also said proposed penalties for educators and administrators who don’t follow the rules on books and informing parents could drive more educators out of the profession. The first violation would result in a written warning. A superintendent or teacher who violates the rules two or more times could be disciplined by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, said the bill breaks the trust educators build with students.

“We are talking about possibly taking away a teacher or superintendent’s license because of books and for affirming a student for who they are,” Matson said. “In my opinion this is egregious.”

The language around age appropriate books makes a broader sweep through school library shelves than what was initially supported by House Republicans. The final bill says schools cannot have books that include any description of sexual activity beginning in January 2024. The House had attempted to restrict the bill to “graphic” descriptions of sex.

While the ban on LGBTQ topics applies just to public and charter schools, the age appropriate standards apply to all K-12 schools including private schools. There is an exception, however, for books used in human growth and development classes and for religious books such as the Bible.

Matson called the bill language vague and subjective, and said it could cause librarians to remove more books than may be necessary in order to avoid the possibility of professional discipline.

Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said the bill achieves House Republicans’ goal to set a statewide standard for books and to get ahead of the number of book challenges in schools.

“We felt that was the best way to approach it so that way it wasn’t an individual picking out books, we laid out a definition,” Grassley said. “I think there is just a want for some guidance so school districts know how to handle it.”

The final bill left out other education priorities pushed by the House including expanded rules for mandatory reporting, a plan to remake the Board of Educational Examiners and approval of online, out-of-state teacher licensing programs.

Grassley said negotiations are still happening between the House and Senate on the fate of those proposals.

Education deregulation passes House

Another education bill headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds would remove some school reporting regulations while also lowering requirements for schools to offer world languages and fine arts.

Republicans describe it as a deregulation bill and said many of the proposals came from suggestions made by superintendents.

The bill (SF 391) finalized by the Iowa House Thursday eliminates a comprehensive school improvement report that copies much of what districts already share with federal regulators. Schools would have more flexibility to contract with community colleges to provide instructors, and cover multiple course units in the same classroom.

The proposal also says schools must only offer two units of a world language, not four, while the fine arts requirement drops from three units to two. Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, said it waters down expectations for schools.

“We’re lowering the standards for our adults and kids,” she said.

Another provision in the bill says instead of hiring a certified teacher librarian, schools can bring in someone who has worked at a public library in the past. Republicans said that and other measures in the bill are meant to help schools that are struggling to find enough qualified teachers.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa