Iowa Senate passes sprawling schools bill to desex libraries, 'put parents back in charge'

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A wide-ranging education bill that would remove school library books describing sex acts, prohibit public schools from teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation through sixth grade and require immediate parental notification if a student comes out as transgender, has been passed by the Iowa Senate.

Senate File 496 was Gov. Kim Reynolds' sweeping education bill, but senators amended it significantly Wednesday night before approving it 34-16 in a party-line vote.

Attacked by opponents who argue it endangers transgender children, the legislation has been championed by Republicans who say it will give parents more oversight and control over what their children learn and do in school.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Pella, said the bill establishes guidelines for schools that are "reasonable and fair."

In his closing comments Wednesday before the vote, Rozenboom referenced a Facebook post of a local school board member that he disagreed with. The post said that public education is meant to teach kids what the community needs them to know, not what parents want them to know.

"In fact, it’s my belief that this bill matches up with what most schools are doing right now, and what most parents already expect their school to be doing," Rozenboom said. "But as long as I’m in this chamber, I will work to rein in those schools that believe the purpose of public education is to teach our children what they think society needs them to know. We must put parents back in charge of their children’s education."

The House has passed similar bills to remove books with sex acts and prohibit instruction on LGBTQ subjects in elementary schools. But the House and Senate will need to reach a compromise on the various bills before they can send some to Reynolds to be signed into law.

More:Gender-affirming care ban for kids, trans bathroom bill are now Iowa law. What they do:

New 'age-appropriate' definition would prohibit books with sex acts

The bill instructs school districts to create a library program for kindergarten through 12th grade that includes only "age-appropriate" materials.

The bill redefines "age-appropriate" to state explicitly that it may not include any materials with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act. Iowa Code defines sex acts as a list of sexual activities between two or more people, including penetrative or oral sex or sexual touching.

Schools would need to remove any library books that include descriptions of these sex acts, if the bill becomes law.

"We think those books just need to go away from the library at school," Rozenboom told the Des Moines Register. "That's not book banning any more than Hollywood bans movies when they have a rating system."

Descriptions of sex acts would still be allowed for human growth and development classes for students in seventh grade and above.

Democrats said the bill would require school libraries to remove essential books, like the Bible or the Diary of Anne Frank, that include discussion of sexuality.

"This isn't really about sex, it's about discrimination and censorship," said Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City.

The age-appropriate rule replaces the governor's original proposal to create a statewide list of books that had been successfully challenged in another district. Students in other districts would need parental consent to check out those books.

Rozenboom said relying on a statewide list would be "cumbersome."

"I'd rather the schools just got rid of the books that are so explicit," he said.

More:Iowa Poll: Majority oppose requiring parental consent for books banned in other schools

No gender ID, sexual orientation through sixth grade

The bill prohibits any instruction or classroom materials about gender identity or sexual orientation from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Rozenboom said discussion of gender identity is "totally unnecessary" for elementary school children.

“Parents and guardians that wish to have that conversation with their child can do so in the home, or any other setting they would like," he said. "But to have that in the public school, most of, many of us, believe is inappropriate.”

The bill also removes any discussion of human sexuality through grade six. Instead, students in first through sixth grade would receive human growth and development instruction about self-esteem, stress management, interpersonal relationships and domestic abuse.

Sen. Liz Bennett, who is the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve in the Iowa Legislature, said the bill erases LGBTQ Iowans. She raised concerns that schools couldn't address bullying of transgender or gay students, and LGBTQ teachers would be unable to discuss their personal lives or identity.

"It sends the message to kids of LGBTQ couples, or kids who are LGBTQ themselves, that there is something so wrong with them that a teacher can't even discuss or acknowledge their family," Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, said.

Bill requires parental notification for transgender student

The bill also includes a requirement that school employees immediately notify parents if they believe a student has expressed a gender identity that does not match the child's sex at birth.

Schools would require written parental consent to use a name or pronouns for the child that differs from the name or pronouns listed in the district's record.

Iowa Republicans have considered various versions of this proposal this year, but none have passed into law.

Supporters of the proposal say it's necessary to loop in parents on major life changes that their child may be going through.

"The intent of the bill is to inform involved parents in such significant matters as gender identity and their welfare," Rozenboom said. "That's the intent of the bill, keep the parents involved with their child."

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Opponents say the bill encourages school employees to speculate about the gender identity of students. Democrats also brought up concerns that a transgender child may not feel safe coming out to their family.

The bill requires a school employee to report directly to the Department of Health and Human Services if they believe a child is transgender and would not be able to safely come out to their parents.

Parents given 'ultimate responsibility' over decisions for child

The bill adds a new section to Iowa Code to codify parents' rights to make decisions for their children.

Iowa law would say that parents have the "fundamental, constitutionally protected right" to make decisions for their child under the age of 18, including their medical care, moral and religious upbringing, residence, education and extracurricular. Any restriction of those rights would be subject to the highest legal standards.

However, the legislation makes an exception for Iowa's ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors, which Reynolds signed into law Wednesday.

"This amendment gives every other family and every other child in this state the right that we will not interfere in their medical decisions, except our transgender youth and their families," said Sen. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport.

The bill also specifies that parental rights do not allow parents to neglect or abuse children, and that child welfare officials, law enforcement and courts may still make child welfare decisions.

Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at or at 410-340-3440. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.

What else does the Iowa education bill do?

The 15-page strike-through amendment of Senate File 496 includes several other education policies, many of which have been discussed in various other bills this session. Here's what else is in the bill:

  • Requires Iowa high schoolers to get at least 70% on a U.S. citizenship test to graduate.

  • Removes a requirement to teach about the HPV vaccine.

  • Requires written parental consent before students take mental, emotional or physical health assessments that are not required by law.

  • Requires parental consent before students complete surveys that discuss politics, mental health issues, sexual behavior, religion, income or illegal practices.

  • Requires schools to post all instructional materials online for parents to review

  • Allows private school students requiring special education services to dual enroll in public schools.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa bill would prohibit sexually explicit books in schools, gender talk