Iowa Schools Balance Support for Trans Students, Following New Bathroom Law

By Nikoel Hytrek

April 4, 2023

School districts across the state have scrambled to update students and parents after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill to restrict where transgender children can go to the bathroom on March 23.

Several large Iowa districts released statements intended to reassure families of transgender students and update them on what the new law, which took effect immediately, means.

For the most part, schools have announced that they’re complying with the law and reviewing any school policies that might conflict. Part of the law does allow schools to make accommodations for people who request them, but the request must be signed by a parent or guardian and is subject to the school’s approval.

Here are what some of the state’s largest districts are doing in the wake of the law:

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Linn-Mar won’t enforce gender support plans

Linn-Mar Community Schools made headlines and drew criticism from Iowa Republicans such as Reynolds and US Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) for a district policy that allows students to create Gender Support Plans. For those in seventh grade and up, students could request the school not tell their parents about such a plan, usually because they’re worried about their parents’ reactions.

That policy will now not be enforced, Linn-Mar Community Schools said.

In a statement confirming the district would be following the law, the district also said it would allow individual families to request accommodations at their building.

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Sioux City ‘fundamentally opposes,’ but will follow law

The Sioux City Community school board passed a resolution affirming that the district recognizes LGBTQ+ students and declares that they have an equal right to learn and be respected while at school. The resolution also acknowledges that LGBTQ students face higher rates of bullying, which leads to negative education outcomes.

The resolution states the district will follow the law, as required, but that it “fundamentally opposes” actions that discriminate against LGBTQ students, “by restricting rights, limiting educational content and creating a school environment of feeling less safe and accepted.”

Employees at the district told the Sioux City Journal that teachers and staff will still support and take care of LGBTQ students, even with restrictions in place.

“They can still reach out to the teachers that they already feel comfortable with, or the counselor that they have that relationship with,” Board Member Bernie Scolaro said. “That’s not going to change. We’re not going to stop caring about them because somebody in Des Moines is making some legislation that, to me, is hateful and harmful.”

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Des Moines taking private facility requests

The Des Moines Schools had a similar response, noting that they were required to follow state law, but also adhere to federal anti-discrimination law.

“DMPS will continue to strongly enforce all anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to protect all students and staff, and to create an environment that is welcoming to all in our community,” said Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Matthew Smith in a statement released after the signing.

He went on to assure people they have the ability to submit a written request to their principal for more private facilities, and administration will do what they can.

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Suburban districts creating single-stall options

Ankeny Community School District released a statement to KCCI similar to Des Moines’.

According to Axios, Waukee and Urbandale are also changing the signs at some bathrooms in the school to create more single-stall options. In Johnston, the school has provided a spreadsheet of the single-stall bathrooms in the district.

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Cedar Rapids will prioritize ‘sense of belonging;’ CR Wash has new privacy restrooms

The school released a statement the day the bill was signed noting they would comply with the law and continue seeking to make students at the school comfortable.

“We will continue to prioritize students’ sense of belonging in our schools,” the statement says. “Students’ ability to use the restroom is a basic need and we will ensure it is met in a manner that is least restrictive and least disruptive to our students’ access to their education.”

Cedar Rapids Washington High School announced new privacy restrooms, though they’re not specifically as a response to the new restriction as they’ve been planned for a few years.

The bathrooms were originally meant to be used for staff, but now students who want to use one can go to the office and ask for a key.

“Our job is to be an inclusive environment and the only way you can be inclusive (is), you have to make sure everyone feels comfortable,” Washington High School Principal Darius Ballard told KCRG. “And bathrooms are the bedrock of being able to be comfortable in the space.”


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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