IOWA LEGISLATURE

Bill would require parents to 'opt in' for kids to learn about gender identity

Legislation advances in Iowa Senate despite criticism from transgender, education advocates

Demonstrators attend a rally to support the transgender community March 5, 2017, on the Ped Mall in Iowa City. (The Gaze
Demonstrators attend a rally to support the transgender community March 5, 2017, on the Ped Mall in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Parents of elementary school students would have to be notified and provide written permission if instruction related to gender identity were included in a curriculum offered in accordance with the state’s educational standards under a bill that cleared a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.

Senate File 167 provides that a student in first through sixth grades may opt out of instruction related to gender identity if a public or nonpublic accredited school does not obtain written permission from the pupil’s parent or legal guardian. Gender identity, for purposes of the bill, is defined as a gender-related identity of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth.

“The family is the most basic human social institution and for the schools to insert themselves squarely between the parents and the child is simply unthinkable to me,” said Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, one of two Republicans who voted to forward the bill to the full Senate Education Committee for consideration.

The bill passed 2-1 over objections from representatives of education organizations, parents, teachers, students and advocates on transgender, gender identity and civil rights issues who argued against heading down a “slippery slope” of excluding educational instruction based on legislative “whims.”

“We don’t want the Legislature dictating what can and cannot be taught because that doesn’t benefit all students,” said Phil Jeneary, a lobbyist for Iowa Association of School Boards.

“This should really be a local decision,” he added. “Most schools, if not all, already have a process for curriculum in this area that notifies the parents when it’s going to be taught, and if there are issues parents should be talking with the teachers, with the administration on what can be done if they do have issues and I think most schools, if not all, already have those avenues.”

Margaret Buckton, a lobbyist for organizations representing urban and rural schools, said school boards already have open and public processes for parents and communities to have input when a curriculum is being adopted.

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“We believe this is an intrusion in the role of local school boards to make decisions based on their community values and those that elected them,” Buckton said.

She noted districts that had bought certain textbooks would incur a cost from the bill, which would represent an unfunded mandate.

Paras Bassuk, a high school senior, told subcommittee members that instruction related to gender identity was vital to Iowa and established a culture of acceptance that “is sorely needed” to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion in schools.

“If most students are not taught that gender identity is real, there is an increased potential for bullying and harassment for trans students in and beyond school. This discriminatory censorship sacrifices the safety of Iowa students,” Bassuk said. “Senate File 167 makes a sweeping discriminatory change that is baseless and contradicted by all evidence.”

Daniel Sunne countered that the proposed legislation offers elementary children “some protection from indoctrination by gender-theory activists, undermining parental teaching and ignoring biological reality.”

Chuck Hurley of the Family Leader Foundation said as a parent he did not want his children “exposed to this at all without me first being notified and having a chance to review the curriculum and opt my children out.”

Keenan Crow of the One Iowa LGBTQ organization told the legislative panel “everyone has a gender identity, not just transgender people,” but “there is no other topic specifically prohibited under the Iowa educational standards the way this one would be. Heather Dunn, a transgender woman and Iowa taxpayer, called on lawmakers to “stop this agenda of hate.”

Danny Carroll, another Family Leader lobbyist, said the question at hand was merely whether parents should be asked to give their written permission. “Why wouldn’t we want that?”

But Sarah Chang argued bigger issues are at stake.

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“It’s a very slippery slope to call out certain topics from exclusion from the school curriculum,” Chang said. “If gender identity is not being unfairly singled out, where is the line drawn? Will students have to be opted in to learn about various cultural identities, religious identities? If so, the whole social studies curriculum might as well become opt in. If not, don’t single out topics for exclusion from mention in educational settings.”

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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