Earlier this month, Republican State Sen. Brad Zaun said he also supports charging teachers with felonies for having “obscene” books on school bookshelves and removing those books from schools.
At an initial reconsideration committee meeting on Nov. 10 for Johnston Community School District, Zaun said he would work hard to create legislation to charge teachers with felonies for allowing students to read books that include characters or the authors discovering and exploring their identities and sexualities.
He called those books inappropriate for students.
“My warning to all the teachers and the administrators is you’re going to be in jail,” he said. “Because this is distributing pornography. And I will work my tail end off and it will become law.”
Zaun said that as the president of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he would support the proposed legislation passing through his committee.
“I would have to say I’m sick to my stomach that it’s going to take another meeting,” Zaun said.”In the meantime, this garbage curriculum or books are being taught to our kids. And I can assure you that I will be working on this legislation next year in regards to enhancing the penalties.”
The current penalty for distributing pornography is a misdemeanor, so any enhancement would make it a felony.
Chapman said the same thing at the second meeting on Nov. 18.
“I can tell you, if this material was in my school, I’d be going to law enforcement. I would be asking for a criminal investigation. I would be asking for every single teacher who disseminated that information to be held criminally responsible,” Chapman told the reconsideration committee then. “If we need to, as the state of Iowa, provide deeper clarity when it comes to that and enhance those penalties, I will do that.”
Calls to ban books over content have also happened in Waukee and Urbandale. The books targeted explore the authors’ or characters’ LGBTQ identities, and the journey to understand those identities.
None of the books qualify as pornography or obscenity, according to Iowa law. Serious literature, accredited schools, and public libraries are exempted from Iowa obscenity laws.
The books in question at Johnston were “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexei and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas.
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is a novel by a Native author, about a 14-year-old Native boy who lives on a reservation in Washington. It deals with the clash between living in and growing up in poverty, but attending a wealthy, mostly white high school because of the better opportunities. The character, Junior, struggles with his identity, fitting in in two different places and handling the obstacles of being a minority and of life on a reservation.
The author has said the book is semi-autobiographical.
“The Hate U Give” is about a 16-year-old Black girl, Starr, who balances living in a poor neighborhood but attending a private prep school. She witnesses a childhood friend killed by a police officer, and when the story begins making headlines, amid social and external pressures, Starr has to decide whether to tell the world what really happened.
Two parents complained about mentions of sex and discussions about race and racial identity, and the way society responds to race.
Ultimately, the committee recommended the books stay on shelves for students. The committee also suggested finding a better way to tell parents about the books students may read in class, who they should contact with questions and the process for requesting alternative material.
Superintendent Laura Kacer agreed with the committee and made the announcement Nov. 23.
Students, teachers, and parents have been pushing back against these efforts to ban books. At the Nov. 18 meeting, several students stood up to defend the books and their access to them. Students in Urbandale have said the conversation is embarrassing, and students at Waukee have said the efforts are exhausting and frustrating.
by Nikoel Hytrek