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Parents, lawmakers call for more restrictions on ‘obscene’ school books
Most of the questioned books deal with LGBTQ issues and people of color
DES MOINES — Iowa parents and conservative activists said in a hearing with state lawmakers this week there should be more restrictions and parental permission required for school books they find obscene and divisive.
In an Iowa House Government Oversight committee meeting Monday evening, the parents, many of them activists with the conservative group Moms for Liberty, read passages from books they found offensive and said they faced onerous and difficult procedures when trying to challenge the book in their local school districts.
Nearly all of the books presented dealt with LGBTQ characters and people of color.
Parents read passages containing profanity, descriptions and illustrations of sex, sexual abuse and other content they said were not suitable to be in a school library.
“You cannot distribute obscene material to children anywhere else,” said Pam Gronau, a parent from Urbandale. “Why would we allow our schools to be exempted from this?”
For something to be considered obscene under Iowa law, it has to lack “serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value.” There is also an exception for the use of “appropriate material for educational purposes” in schools and public libraries.
Mandy Gilbert of Johnston, who raised concerns about "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" and "The Hate U Give," said she wanted parents to be informed that their children were able to read books that she considered obscene.
“We did not ask for these two books to be removed from the school library, but questioned why they were hand-selected by teachers to read without parents knowing the explicit language,” she said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, held a forum with Moms For Liberty last week where she suggested books that are removed by one school should be restricted at all other schools in the state. Under the proposal, a book that has been removed from one school library would be available for students at other schools but only with a parent’s written permission.
Some Republicans on the committee suggested there should be age restrictions on some books in a school library similar to a movie rating that would require a parent’s consent before being checked out.
“We don’t allow children under 17 into R-rated movies,” Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said. “And we’re not banning these movies. We’ve made a decision that young people, as a minimum, should have parental consent before being exposed to adult material.”
But Democrats contended there already are processes in place to challenge materials in Iowa’s schools and questioned the implications of further restricting material.
Lindsay James, D-Dubuque and the ranking member of the committee, said being too quick to restrict a book could conflict with the rights of students and of parents in the district who did not have problems with the books presented.
“What I am concerned with is upholding constitutional free speech for our children, making sure that your parental right to choose is upheld, and that, as a mom with children in my districts, in both elementary and middle school, that I would have the right to choose what my child would be exposed to,” she said.
Rep. Brooke Boden, R-Indianola and chair of the committee, said the committee planned to hold a hearing with administrators and teachers to gain their perspective.
Several people showed up in opposition to the speakers at the meeting, sporting T-shirts extolling “banned books” and supporting public school teachers.
Brenda Schumann, a former teacher from Des Moines who attended the hearing, said the proposals from Reynolds and other Republicans would place restrictions on children across the state regardless of how local districts felt about content.
“What happened to local control? What happened to parents?” she asked. “They think they should be controlling every kid. … If they don’t want their kids to read it, there should be a way that they can keep their kid from reading it, but not keeping everybody else’s kids from reading it.”