Urbandale Pauses Removal Of LGBTQ Books From Schools


By Nikoel Hytrek

August 3, 2023

The Urbandale School District released updated guidance on Thursday about books that are to be removed from school buildings and paused on removing those that mention LGBTQ content.

After reviewing the list with 382 titles and instead narrowed it down to 65.

“We have determined that there is ambiguity regarding the extent to which books that contain topics related to gender identity and sexual orientation need to be removed from libraries. As such, we will pause removing books that reference gender identity and sexual orientation until we receive guidance from the Iowa Department of Education,” said the email from the school district to parents of the district.

As a result, the only books the district will focus on removing at this time are those that depict sex acts as defined in Iowa Code Section 702.17.

The list still contains classics like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and multiple books by Toni Morrison, John Green, and Sarah J. Maas.

School board members who criticized the initial list praised the move.

“It’s absolutely a move in the right direction,” said Jason Menke, who serves on the Urbandale School Board. “I’m still distraught that districts are in a position where they’re still having to remove books. Sixty-five still seems like a very high number.”

He said this confusion was just a sign of what a tricky position the Iowa Legislature put schools in when it passed SF 496, which prohibits schools from having any books that depict sex acts—no matter the overall purpose of the book—and prohibits instruction about sexual orientations or gender identity for students up to sixth grade.

“In the absence of leadership and clear direction, more districts are going to find themselves in this situation,” he said. “And it’s regrettable because our schools and our teachers have more important things to do than going through the card catalog.”

But the ultimate good news was the pause in removing books mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The key for me is that this is a victory in regards to moving our district in the right direction. I’m not saying we’re totally there yet, but we this is better than it was yesterday or last week. We’re moving in the right direction,” said Dan Gutmann, who also serves on the Urbandale School Board.

He said this announcement was the ultimate indication of the power of concerned people coming together. Gutmann also thanked Superintendent Dr. Rosalie Daca and her team for noticing concerns and changing course.

“It’s a good move to wait until not only official guidance from the state but also to see what happens around any pending litigation around this,” he said. “This is a victory in terms of books and representation of the diverse families that we have in Urbandale.”

In the email, Daca said the district needs to be careful about following the law because teachers and administrators risk disciplinary action if found in violation.

“I owe it to every staff member and their family to be careful, mindful and intentional about the guidance we provide knowing that if our guidance is wrong, we could jeopardize their professional and personal lives,” she wrote.

Schools have until Jan. 1, 2024, to be in full compliance with the law, and the Department of Education has not yet released guidelines about how to achieve that.

“Our understanding of SF496 was that any book that contained topics related to gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex acts would need to be removed,” Daca said in the email released to families. “Based on that criteria, the initial list of 382 book titles was shared with teachers and librarians so that they could review the list, compare it to what may be in their classroom or school library, and then provide feedback based on their knowledge of those books.”

Any of the books that are removed will be stored in a central location, the email says.

“We started to see this getting reported as far away as Los Angeles,” Gutmann said. “The Los Angeles Blade covered it. LGBTQ Nation picked it up. National authors that were on the list were commenting about Urbandale’s action.

“This didn’t happen voluntarily. This happened because we applied a significant amount. Of people power. And it was a good fight and it’s not over, but today is a victory.”


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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