Signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced a sweeping bill that will become law on Friday that would restrict education about gender identity and sexual orientation and ban books with certain sexual content from school libraries, as well as require schools to notify parents when their child asks to use a new name or pronoun.
Iowa is just one of several Republican-led states that have passed laws strengthening what advocates often describe as “parental rights” in the past few years.
The controversial move, which critics argue is aimed at limiting the rights of LGBTQ and other marginalized students, has emerged as a top issue for the national Republican Party during the Covid-19 pandemic and is expected to will play a key role during the 2024 election cycle.
The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization, compared Iowa’s parental rights law to a law passed in Florida last year that opponents called “Don’t Say Gay.” The Florida law banned some instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom and started a social and political firestorm.
Sen. Ken Rozenboom of the state of Iowa, the chairman of the education committee, said that the parental rights law “is in line with what most schools are doing now.”
“But we need to stop schools believing that ‘the purpose of public education is to teach [students] what society needs them to know.’ We need to put parents back in charge of their children’s education,” he wrote in his newsletter in March.
Iowa passed several new laws this year that address parents’ rights. In March, Reynolds signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, as well as a law that makes it easier for families to use taxpayer dollars to send their children privately. K-12 school regardless of their income.
Iowa’s new law, also known as SF 496, targets a variety of education-related issues.
It prohibits teaching related to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The law also requires school administrators to notify parents if their child “requests an accommodation” related to their gender identity, including using a name or pronoun that is different from the one “the student has assigned to the school district registration form or record.”
When it comes to books, the law places restrictions on school libraries for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. grade. Libraries can only have books that are considered “age appropriate,” which, according to the law, does not include any materials that contain “depicts or visual depictions of a sexual act.”
School employees found to repeatedly violate some of these provisions may face disciplinary action, according to the law.
Similar laws restricting what books are allowed in libraries have recently been enacted in other states, including Florida, Missouri and Utah.
“The laws’ vague language about how they should be enforced, as well as the inclusion of potential penalties for teachers who violate them, combine to produce a chilling effect,” according to a report that published in April by PEN America, a nonprofit that works to protect free expression and tracks book restrictions.
Laws like the one in Florida provide incentives to teachers, media specialists and school administrators to actively remove books from the shelves, the report said.
There were more book bans nationwide during the fall 2022 semester than in each of the previous two semesters, according to PEN America. The bans are common in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina.
About a third of the titles banned were books about race or racism or characters of color. About 26% of titles have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
“Those kids tell us all the time that finding books that reflect their experiences and answer questions they wouldn’t ask adults is a lifesaver for them,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation.
Last year brought an uptick in the book ban movement, with several state lawmakers introducing legislation that could have an impact on what is available to the public and school libraries.
“We’ve looked at over 31 bills that oppose some sort of restriction on the ability of librarians to create collections that serve the needs of individual students or attempt to censor books based on opinion. in a group,” added Caldwell-Stone.
There have been at least 62 “parental rights” bills introduced in 24 states this year, according to FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
Most have not yet become law. But last year, six bills were signed by governors — two in Florida, two in Arizona and one each in Georgia and Louisiana.
Many of the bills focus on parents’ right to know what their children are learning in classrooms, particularly on issues of race and gender.
The Republican-controlled US House passed its own “Parents Bill of Rights” bill in March, although the Senate is not expected to take up the legislation.
Overall, a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced this year. Some focus on education, but others are concerned with health care, bathroom access and drag shows.