The Urbandale School District provided no further clarity on how it will enforce the new state-mandated teaching restrictions for LGBTQ topics at Monday’s school board meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Rosalie Daca said, “If your major concern is the gender identity book piece, we aren’t going to make any decisions on how we’re going to tackle that.”
Daca said this in response to a discussion about a proposed rule directing the superintendent to “present any and all proposed changes in District policy, practice or procedures responding to any new legislation/administrative rules or agency guidance to the Board of Directors for consideration and approval prior to implementation of any changes.”
Ultimately the proposed policy was tabled because the majority of the board—though they all agreed it was necessary—thought the wording should be more specific.
This discussion came about because many school board members were unhappy with how they found out about Urbandale’s initial plan to remove more than 350 books from the library, some for simply mentioning or referencing LGBTQ characters or topics.
The list was created to comply with part of SF 496, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ broad education bill which, among other things, bans books that describe or show sex acts, bans education about gender identity or sexual orientation through grade six, and requires schools to report to their parents students who ask for accommodations to their gender identity.
The Iowa Department of Education has declined to issue clear guidance on how schools should interpret and enforce the new laws.
“You have all been put in a really tough position and without some guidance that would have helped make this transition a lot better,” board member Jenny Meade told Daca. “But at the same time, yes, it is hard to be caught off guard or to not have knowledge of things. It’s a little embarrassing when people from the community know things and they ask you about it and you’re like, ‘I have no idea.’”
Board member Dan Gutmann said the board wants to make sure it’s supporting administrators and staff as they try to figure this out.
“I don’t want to leave them on an island when it comes to having to make difficult decisions that are going to draw a significant amount of public interest and possible scrutiny,” he said. “I feel like we are we are most supportive of our administrator and superintendent when we get to take the heat for making those tough decisions.”
Daca said the policy would hinder her and her team’s ability to start the school year if the board had to approve more policy changes, and that her inaction since the proposal was introduced sent the message that she didn’t know what she was doing.
“I’ll do what the board desires, but it’s really, really going to handicap the work that we do,” she said.
Gutmann emphasized it’s even harder for the community, especially the LGBTQ community, to not know what’s happening before a change is implemented.
“There were other complaince that we were made aware of that the public was not,” he said. “That we were going to remove all flags other than the United States and Iowa flags and that we were going to extend the ‘don’t say trans,’ ‘don’t say gay’ portions of 496 through grade 12 and in all buildings.”
“At the very least, I would like to impress upon our district staff and administration that any future moves towards compliance with SF 496 be done in a transparent way with the ability for the public to comment,” Gutmann continued.
Daca said they’re following advice from district lawyers with the Ahlers & Cooney firm in Des Moines, and ignoring their expert opinion would be a mistake. She also said creating this policy would mean many more board meetings, like what happened in 2021 with pandemic measures.
“I don’t want my community being erased from our schools,” said Gutmann, who is gay. “There are so many children, families, and staff in this school district that were absolutely terrified that we were going to be completely excluded.”
“I understand your distress and I’m sorry that you’ve had to experience that, but I don’t feel that people are understanding the gravity that the LGBTQ community, our students and families, and teachers too, were looking at. And so I want a heads up,” he continued.
The Urbandale School Board also tabled further discussion on the updated policy for students who ask for accommodations for their gender identity (name changes, pronoun changes) if it conflicts with the student’s registration documents. Board members want more clarity about how this applies to 18-year-old students and emancipated students. It also wanted clarity for teachers if the teacher believes the student will face harm if their parents find out and whether students will have any support in navigating those conversations with their parents.
The board decided to mandate education about HIV, AIDS, HPV, and the HPV vaccine for the district because members said it was important for students to continue learning about them. While Iowa no longer mandates those topics from being taught, it doesn’t prohibit schools from teaching about them.
CORRECTION: Corrected spelling of Dan Gutmann’s name and corrected a missing word in a quote.
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