Kim Reynolds signs Iowa education laws with book ban, LGBTQ restrictions
Students protest during Governor’s Scholar Program ceremony
Newton High School seniors Marin Pettigrew and Leo Friedman were those protesting Iowa laws targeting education during the Governor’s Scholar Program.
Des Moines Register
Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a sweeping education law that orders the removal of books in schools that contain sex acts and restricts teaching about LGBTQ topics.
Iowa Republican lawmakers combined several of their top priorities for education into the wide-ranging Senate File 496, which Reynolds signed in a private event on Friday.
The law will ban school books with descriptions or depictions of sex acts; prohibit instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation before seventh grade; require schools to notify parents if a student requests to use new pronouns; and enshrine the “constitutionally protected right” for parents to make decisions for their children.
“This legislative session, we secured transformational education reform that puts parents in the driver’s seat, eliminates burdensome regulations on public schools, provides flexibility to raise teacher salaries and empowers teachers to prepare our kids for their future,” Reynolds said in a news release Friday. “Education is the great equalizer and everyone involved — parents, educators, our children — deserves an environment where they can thrive.”
Democrats have passionately opposed the governor’s bill, saying it amounts to an attack on LGBTQ Iowans.
“We need all Iowa trans kids to know, LGBTQ kids to know, that you belong here,” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said on the final day of the legislative session.
Senate File 496 was one of seven education bills signed into law Friday.
Together, the new laws make far-reaching changes to Iowa’s education system, from the way administrators handle classroom violence to the makeup of the state’s teacher licensing board.
More: Iowa LGBTQ families ask if they still belong after new laws restrict their rights
What do the new laws change for Iowa students?
Iowa kids may notice some changes when they start class in the fall.
No books with sex acts. Teachers and school librarians will need to sort through their books to remove any that include a visual depiction or description of a sex act. Iowa law specifically defines “sex acts” as a list of explicit actions between two or more people.
School and library organizations are warning that many books long available on school library shelves could be banned — far beyond the few, controversial titles that have made news in recent years such as “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson.
More: What is a sex act in Iowa? And how would it affect a likely school book ban? We found out:
No LGBTQ instruction in elementary schools. Teachers may not provide “any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion or instruction” about gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Parental notification for new pronouns. Schools will be required to ask for parental consent if a student requests to use new pronouns.
Fewer fine arts and language courses required to graduate. High schoolers need to take two units of world language, rather than four, and two units of fine arts, instead of three.
More exemptions from physical education. A school-sponsored activity that requires “at least as much physical activity per week” as the P.E. requirement can excuse a student from also taking P.E. class.
Salary and debt data from Iowa colleges. High schoolers applying to Iowa’s public universities will soon have new data to look through. House File 135 instructs the Board of Regents to publish an annual report about the average income and student loan debt for graduates of different programs.
What do the new laws change for Iowa parents?
Reynolds and Republican lawmakers celebrated many of the changes as a win for “parents’ rights.” Here’s what you can expect to see under the new laws.
Constitutionally-protected parental rights. Iowa parents have the “fundamental, constitutionally protected right” to make decisions about their minor child’s medical care, moral and religious upbringing, residence, education and extracurricular activities. The language probably won’t change much for day-to-day parenting, but any laws or policies that restrict parental rights will be held to the highest legal standard in Iowa courts.
The law makes an exception for gender-affirming care for transgender minors, which is banned in Iowa, regardless of parental consent.
Parental consent for surveys. Parents will be asked to provide written consent before their child takes any school survey about their mental, emotional or physical health, or any survey that asks about political affiliation, sexual behavior, illegal activities, religion or family income.
What do the laws change for Iowa teachers and administrators?
In addition to following laws restricting books and LGBTQ+ instruction, Iowa teachers should expect some new reporting requirements and oversight from the state.
New reporting requirements for violence and threats. School districts must adopt policies to discipline students who are violent or make threats of violence. Districts may decide the specific punishments, but the law requires prompt parental notification and options to remove a student from the classroom, or to suspend or expel them.
Less state paperwork. Senate File 391 eliminates the state-mandated “comprehensive school improvement plan,” requiring school districts only to complete a report required by federal law.
Adding parents onto the licensing board. The Board of Educational Examiners creates and regulates standards for Iowa teachers. House File 430 adds four members to the 13-person board who “have demonstrated an interest in education but have never held a practitioner’s license.” Two of those members must be parents of currently-enrolled students, and one must be a current or former school board member.
Lower professional requirements for school librarians. Schools may hire a public library professional for the teacher librarian position, and they would not be required to hold a master’s degree.
Routine background checks. Iowa teachers who are exempt from regular license renewal will still need to undergo a background check every five years.
Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.