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DES MOINES — Teachers should not have to worry about jail time for distributing books that some people might consider vulgar, Republican Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said Friday.
Whitver made the comment while appearing on this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.
Whitver was asked about comments made before the legislative session by two Senate Republicans — Sens. Jake Chapman of Adel and Brad Zaun of Urbandale — who said they felt educators should face jail time for distributing literature that they deemed vulgar or obscene.
When asked about the possibility of criminal penalties for teachers, Whitver on Friday appeared to dismiss the idea.
“I think charging anyone with felonies for these types of things, I don’t think is a good idea,” he said. Whitver said no legislation has been proposed in the Senate that would criminalize the distribution of certain literature in schools.
Republican lawmakers are hearing concerns from parents about some books in schools and their libraries, he said. When books have been singled out by legislators or at school board meetings, they typically have been about LGBTQ characters or written by LGBTQ authors, and include brief passages that describe sexual acts or feelings.
Whitver said he thinks the topic should be addressed through transparency. That aligns with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who proposed legislation that would require schools to post a catalog of all of their library books and curriculum materials online. Schools are already required to have that information available.
“We’re hearing concerns from parents and our job is to listen to those concerns and try to address them,” Whitver said. “I think adding transparency is a really good way to do that: make sure our parents have a seat at the table in their kids’ education, give them a process to address any concerns they have.”
Many school districts already have a process in place for considering books and other materials that some people may deem inappropriate.
The phenomenon is not unique to Iowa, and other states’ elected officials have taken action. Florida’s Republican lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban schools from, in their instruction, making people feel “discomfort” over historic actions by their race, nationality or gender. And a Tennessee school board banned a book about the Holocaust over concerns of graphic drawings.
“Iowa Press” airs on Iowa PBS at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday, and can be viewed online at iowapbs.org.
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