IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa senator pitches law allowing students to appeal grades influenced by political bias

Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug
Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (The Gazette)
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Saying he’s troubled by stories he’s hearing about unfairness in the classroom, a Fort Dodge Republican is proposing a measure requiring Iowa schools to establish appeal processes “to determine whether the teacher has a political bias that affected the student’s grade.”

Senate File 2057 — introduced last week by state Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink — would apply to any public or private elementary, secondary, or postsecondary school, college or university.

“I have had a lot of calls, as well as personal stories that have come to me this last year and a half,” Kraayenbrink said. “I feel it’s important that the children and students and the parents have a system or a protocol to go through to resolve the problem.”

Since Kraayenbrink is a Republican, he conceded many anecdotes he’s heard have come from his political party. But the proposed legislation, he said, is apolitical and aims to keep any instructor’s viewpoint neutral in the grading.

Since proposing the bill last week, Kraayenbrink said, he said he has been approached with even more stories of apparent political bias in an array of classroom settings in Iowa — both on the right and left.

“If we are to the point where we think this doesn’t happen, we must be going through life with our eyes closed,” he said. “It’s not a Republican or a Democrat bill. If you are not sponsoring or going along with this, my thought is you are OK with political bias in the classroom — right or left.”

President Donald Trump in March of last year signed an executive order meant to mandate free speech at research universities and colleges — a gesture he announced during a conference for conservative activists.

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A week later, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law free-speech legislation requiring — among other things — that Iowa’s public universities and colleges to adopt free-speech policies; bar First Amendment restrictions pertaining to public assemblies, campus property and visiting speakers; and allow student organizations to choose group leaders based on their beliefs.

Kraayenbrink said his proposal is meant to prevent educators from distributing low grades because they don’t like a student’s political slant or ideas in a writing assignment, for example.

Asked for comment on the proposed legislation, Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said Iowa’s public universities already have processes in place for students to appeal grades.

At the University of Iowa, for example, students can pursue “grading grievances” through a process that starts by talking to the instructor. If that fails, students can escalate concerns to superiors and administrators — with an option to appeal if they feel a resolution is inadequate.

Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, likewise, have academic grievance procedures — but none are specific to political bias in the classroom.

Kirkwood Community College, too, pointed to academic grievance procedures already in place when asked for comment on the proposal.

“From Kirkwood’s perspective, this proposed law is unnecessary given that Kirkwood already allows grade appeals that provide students the opportunity to meet directly with, and give testimony to, an impartial committee,” Kirkwood spokesman Justin Hoehn said. “In our view, specific processes and policies related to political bias, or any other type of bias for that matter, is redundant.”

Kraayenbrink said even if his bill doesn’t make it through the Legislature to the governor’s desk for a signature, he hopes it sparks conversation and heightens awareness among students and in schools.

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“What I’m doing is making sure every student is aware that this is the process, and this is what you need to do,” he said.

Because academic appeals are confidential, regents spokesman Lehman declined to provide information about the nature and frequency of student grade appeals at the public universities.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, serves on a Senate education subcommittee but said he hasn’t had time to read and analyze the bill.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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