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GOP bill would ban books with sex acts, teaching gender identity in schools
Republicans say proposal would advance parents’ input; Democrats say it marginalizes LGBTQ students
DES MOINES — Iowa Senate Republicans on Wednesday passed a sweeping K-12 education policy bill that proposes removing books from schools that include sex acts, barring the teaching of sexual orientation, and notifying parents if a student expresses a different gender identity.
Senate File 496 passed the Senate on a party-line, 34-16 votes with all Republicans supporting and all Democrats opposing.
The proposal is now eligible for consideration in the Iowa House.
Some of the provisions in the Senate bill are similar to provisions previously passed by the House, although in the House those myriad provisions were in separate bills.
Among the provisions in the Senate version are:
- Any books that describe or depict sex acts would be required to be removed from Iowa’s K-12 schools. The bill does this by changing the state’s legal definition of age-appropriate materials to exclude any content that includes a description or depiction of sex acts, which are specific sexual actions defined in state law. https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/code/702.17.pdf
- The teaching of gender identity or sexual orientation would be prohibited through sixth grade.
- Educators would be required to inform parents if they believe the student is expressing a different gender identity. If an educator believes the student would be put at risk by notifying parents, the student could instead be referred to the state Health and Human Services department.
- Schools would require written consent from a parent before addressing a student by pronouns different from those on the district’s registration forms.
- School districts would be required to publish online all books available in its schools and the district’s process by which parents can request the removal of books or curriculum.
Republicans characterized the bill as advancing parents’ rights in their students’ education and increasing transparency in school materials.
“We want everyone to be clear about the role that parents have in their child’s education,” Iowa Sen. Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa who managed the legislation for Senate Republicans.
Democrats opposed the legislation at every turn, from its handling of books in schools to its new policies for teaching about LGBTQ issues and handling LGBTQ students.
“We are supposed to be a society that teaches our children how to handle information, how to deal with people who are different than they are, to deal with and embrace different ideas. We’re not supposed to shut that down,” said Sen. Janice Weiner, a Democrat from Iowa City.
Democrats have expressed concern that the proposal to prohibit books with descriptions of sex acts could result in the removal of literary classics that include brief sexual content.
However, the proposal refers specifically to sex acts, which as defined in Iowa law refers to specific actions during sexual encounters.
Republicans have pointed to multiple books, often written by LGBTQ authors or with LGBTQ themes, that include passages that describe or depict sex acts. They argue books with those types of graphic passages should not be in public schools, while those who defend the books say those passages do not detract from the books’ overall literary value.
The House also has passed legislation that similarly prohibits sexual material in books in schools (House File 597), prohibits the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation through sixth grade (House File 348).
The House has not yet passed out of the full chamber the requirement to notify parents of students’ stated gender identity (House File 180), and on school books and curriculum transparency (House File 5).
That leaves legislative and procedural work still to do for majority Republicans in the two chambers who wish to get any of the provisions to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her consideration.
House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, said Thursday he sees some differences between the House and Senate Republicans’ approach, but that there appears to be enough support around the issue for Republicans to come together on some form of legislation.
“Whatever the final language looks like, there is a level of support in the House and the Senate to do some of these things,” Grassley said.
On the provision regarding the removal of some books from schools, previous proposals from statehouse Republicans would have allowed for Iowans to request a school to remove books, and any book that was removed from one school would have been removed from all schools across the state.
The updated proposal takes out that process, instead prescribing what books would not be allowed in schools.
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