This Is Why Iowa Schools Need Permission To Use Nicknames

By Ty Rushing

August 24, 2023

If you are an Iowa parent wondering why your local school district needs your permission to call your child by their nickname this school year, it’s because of a new law spearheaded by Iowa Republicans.

SF 496 was a massive education bill championed by Gov. Kim Reynolds and other Republicans that instituted a multitude of changes to Iowa’s public education system, including book bans, removing explicit instruction on HIV/AIDS, banning discussion of gender identity in K-6, and forcing teachers to out students to their parents.

One parent of a student attending West Des Moines’ Valley High School tweeted about getting a call from the principal to inform her that her daughter “Caroline” wants to go by “Carly” at school.

The forced outing provision is why Iowa schools need parental permission if a student whose legal name is Robert wants to go by “Bobby” or any other shortened version of the name on their birth certificate or other legal docu—

This is dumb.

Oh, hey there! I agree, but schools are simply trying to follow the law.

What exactly does this law say?

“If a student enrolled in a school district requests an accommodation that is intended to affirm the student’s gender identity from a licensed practitioner employed by the school district, including a request that the licensed practitioner address the student using a name or pronoun that is different than the name or pronoun assigned to the student in the school district’s registration forms or records, the licensed practitioner shall report the student’s request to an administrator employed by the school district, and the administrator shall report the student’s request to the student’s parent or guardian.”

My kid isn’t trans or non-binary, so why does this law apply to us?

For now, the Iowa Department of Education has declined to provide school districts additional guidance on SF 496—this is why the Mason City School District used ChatGPT to figure out which books to ban—so districts are being extra cautious in their interpretations of the law.

An educator who violates this law two or more times could end up losing their teaching license. An earlier version of this section of the bill included fining school districts up to $5,000 for a violation and reporting suspected trans students to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services if the school thought it was too risky to tell their parents.

Why did we need this law?

We didn’t, but a huge focus of the 2023 Iowa legislative session, in which Republicans held big majorities in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate, was going after trans and non-binary kids.

This provision of SF 496 was about preventing those kids from using a different name or identifying with a different gender at school than the one they use at home.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst (D-Windsor Heights) said it best after an early version of SF 496 and other anti-LGTBQ bills passed during a marathon debate day: “Someone from out of state watching the Iowa Legislature today and the Iowa House would think that the only problem we have in this state are LGBTQ kids. That’s not true but those are the bills we did today.”

Exactly how many Iowa public school students identify as trans or non-binary?

It is too early in the 2023-24 school year to have enrollment numbers, but last year there were 481,713 students enrolled in Iowa’s public schools, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

Of those nearly half a million kids, only 259 in the entire state identified as non-binary.

There is no official census of Iowa trans students, but the number is presumably also extremely low. The Centers for Disease and Control estimates that about 1.8% of high school students identify as trans. If we do a little back-of-the-napkin math, there were 156,336 students enrolled in grades 9-12 in Iowa public schools last year. If we take 1.8% of 156,336, that would give us an estimate of about 2,814 trans high school kids.

So in order to harass and target a very small number of kids, Iowa Republicans changed the law and now more than 400,000 kids need parental permission to use a nickname in school?



by Ty Rushing


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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.


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