116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
So Gov. Kim Reynolds slipped quietly into Marion Wednesday to hold a closed-door meeting with a select group of Linn-Mar parents and public officials, ostensibly to tout her “school choice” agenda. Her plan to provide publicly funded private school scholarships is currently stuck in the Iowa House without enough votes to pass.
We wouldn’t even know about the meeting if it hadn’t been for intrepid KCRG reporter Ethan Stein, who staked out the gathering held in Marion’s Thomas Park Administration and Operations Facility, which features a “safe room” for storms. The meeting wasn’t on Reynolds’ public schedule and it was closed to the media.
“It was just an opportunity for me to have an environment where they felt comfortable sharing what was important to them,” Reynolds told Stein afterward. “It was a great opportunity for me to hear from parents, how frustrated they are with not being able to educate their children in an environment that they felt their child could thrive.”
Also on hand was U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson and Linn-Mar School Board member Matt Rollinger, who won a seat on the board last fall after crusading against mask-wearing in schools amid a pandemic.
“We heard from parents who are worried about being cut out of conversations & decisions regarding their kids at school,” Hinson tweeted.
Geralyn Jones, who also ran for school board on an anti-mask campaign but lost, was invited.
“Fake news wasn’t invited. I saw you from the inside looking like a sad little puppy out there…maybe next time kiddo,” Jones tweeted, mocking Stein’s effort to report real news.
“As fake as the law the school board is claiming to hide behind in passing this policy,” tweeted Jones, who turned in fake signatures on her candidate petitions.
And there you have it. “This policy” is the real reason this meeting happened here. Last month, the Linn-Mar school board approved a series of policies for transgender students in grades 7 and up. According to the district, the plan amounts to taking practices already in place and collecting them into a formal policy consistent with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. It passed on April 25 by a 5-2 vote. Rollinger and board member Barry Buchholz voted no.
Of course, it contains all of the hot buttons being pressed by alarmist conservatives – bathroom and locker room usage, rules for overnight trips and pronouns. It creates “gender support plans” for each transgender student. Parents are not notified about the plans, for the obvious reason that some transgender kids fear retribution at home, but parents can see the plans by request.
Basically, the policy’s aim is to let kids be their genuine selves at school, where they can feel safe and supported. Sort of like a “safe room.” As a Linn-Mar parent who didn’t get invited to the meeting, for some reason, I support the policy and the school’s attempts to be inclusive. A majority of our elected school board appears to agree.
But other parents don’t feel that way. Opponents have heaped derision on the policy, deploying some of the greatest hits of transgender fearmongering. They’re uncomfortable and, laws be damned, the school district is obligated to make them comfortable, even if it further marginalizes these kids.
Opponents have an online change.org petition with more than 3,700 signatures. But who has signed it? What did they say in the meeting with the governor? Who knows? I worry I’m a parent being cut out of the conversation.
Or, we could skip all of this and just leave these kids alone and realize it’s not about us and our comfort. They also need an environment where they can thrive.
But the governor dropped by to make sure the passions and divisions around this issue don’t fade. She couldn’t let the storm die down. She needs to harness it, both for her efforts to push private school vouchers and to fuel her re-election campaign.
“Fact: For nearly 20 years, math and reading scores for Iowa students have been decreasing,” claimed a handout distributed at the meeting by the governor’s office that Stein posted on Twitter. I’ve covered five governors and have never seen one trash public education like this while having absolutely no plan to improve the public schools the vast majority of Iowa kids attend.
The same handout did say providing public money to private school vouchers would have a positive impact on public schools. So I guess that’s her public school improvement plan. That and providing a paltry 2.5 percent increase in state funding amid record inflation and while socking away billions of dollars for more tax cuts.
The governor can meet with whoever she wants. But a real leader might have come to Marion to cool the heated debate at Linn-Mar and seek some sort of common ground. Instead, she deepened our divisions.
Instead of talking with a broad group of community members in public, including, God forbid, the kids who are being treated as pawns in a political war over their rights, Reynolds huddled in a bunker with her ideological allies, so she and they could feel safe. She is their governor. Parents’ rights are only for parents who agree with the governor.
The rest of us can stand outside wondering just what storm is coming next.
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