Reynolds’ New Education Bill Would Fine Schools Over Books, Re-Train Teachers

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

By Nikoel Hytrek

February 10, 2023

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office filed a bill Thursday that would fine school districts up to $5,000 for violating what her bill calls “parental rights” in education.

The first violation would result in a written warning to a school board, and a second or subsequent violation would involve a civil penalty of up to $5,000. The money from those penalties would go toward re-training teachers who violate the “parental rights” portion of the law to comply with it.

The “parental rights” code section in question does many things that could result in fines for schools found in violation.

Censor Books

A new definition for “sexually explicit material” says a book, as a whole, does not have literary, artistic, political, or scientific value if it contains any material appealing to sexual interests, or depicts sex acts or genitals in a sexual way. This definition is meant to chip away at a book’s defense against being labeled obscenity.

This is part of the national push to remove books—particularly those dealing with LGBTQ characters and topics or topics about race—from school and classroom libraries by characterizing them as inappropriate for children. Two other sections of the bill deal with it more explicitly.

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One is similar to previous attempts to pass a school transparency law by requiring schools to publish curriculums and materials ahead of time and to allow access to all information about a student, most of which is already freely available. In the newly filed bill, schools would be required to publish a list of “all books available to students in the classroom and in libraries operated by the school district.”

It would also require schools to provide an explanation for how parents or guardians can request material be removed and how to request a review of decisions made by school boards to keep books.

That information would have to be published at least twice a semester or at the start of each trimester.

A hearing in the House on Monday featured five members of Moms for Liberty who talked about their different efforts to challenge books at their schools for what they deem inappropriate content and their unhappiness with the results and the process.

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The next section of the bill sets up a process to notify the Iowa Department of Education when a school district’s board of directors has removed a book from a classroom, school library, or any school property.

This part relates to Reynolds’ call to require every school district in the state to remove a book from their collection if one school removes that material.

Reynolds made the comments last week at a forum hosted by Moms for Liberty, a national group organizing to challenge and remove books that deal largely with LGBTQ characters and topics or discussions of race.

Moms for Liberty has led a nationwide charge to read cherry-picked, out-of-context passages at public meetings that they say illustrate why the books should be banned and to introduce a book rating system in school libraries that members of the group came up with.

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Attack LGBTQ Students

Reynolds’ bill would also go further in forcing schools to out trans students to their parents. It requires school districts to notify parents “if any employee of the school district reasonably believes that the minor child has expressed a gender identity that is different than the biological sex listed on the minor child’s official birth certificate.”

If a school doesn’t do that, or if teachers use a nickname or a pronoun that doesn’t match a student’s birth certificate without a parent’s permission, the district would be subject to a warning and a $5,000 fine for a second offense.

The other forced outing bill—House File 9—requires schools to out students to their parents if the student requests accommodations such as different pronouns or a different name.

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Reynolds’ bill does state that a school doesn’t have to do out the student if the district determines it would result in child abuse, but it does require the district to report that to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, so “the department may determine whether the minor child is a child in need of assistance.” Which might out them anyway.

The bill also prohibits instruction about gender identity and sexual acts in grades kindergarten-three, though no school is teaching children how to have sex.

Iowa Mental Health Advocacy, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa (ACLU-IA), Iowa State Education Association, Iowa Safe Schools, One Iowa, and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund are all registered opposed to the bill so far.

The bill has been assigned to a Senate Education subcommittee with Sens. Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa), Herman Qurimbach (D-Ames), and Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) but the subcommittee has not yet been scheduled.


Nikoel Hytrek

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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