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Changes coming to Iowa schools as new school year begins

As many districts prepare to kick off the first day of school on Wednesday, there are several changes coming due to recent law changes.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Starting Wednesday morning, many Iowa families will be sending their kids off to school for the 2023-24 school year.

Des Moines, West Des Moines, Johnston, Urbandale and Waukee are just some of the districts that begin on Wednesday.

This year, schools are managing many changes following several pieces of legislation Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law recently.

In May, she signed Senate File 496 into law, a bill that she has said is all about "parental rights" when it comes to children's education.  A leading piece of SF496 is a section banning virtually all books from school libraries and classrooms that depict any sexual act. 

However, religious texts like the Bible, the Torah and the Quran are not included in that ban. 

As Local 5 has reported this summer, some schools, like Urbandale, have already released lists of certain books that will be banned. The district's original list included more than 380 books but has since been pared down to 65. 

SF 496 also includes a section requiring written parental permission for a student to go by a pronoun or name they were not assigned at birth. School staff are also required to notify parents if a student requests to change their name or pronoun. 

Similarly, a different law Reynolds signed in March, SF 482, prohibits people from using bathrooms that do not match their sex assigned at birth. 

Another section of SF 496 will prohibit LGBTQ-related instruction for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. This means there can be no program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion or instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-6 classrooms. 

However, the Iowa Department of Education has not released any guidance on if this means books with LGBTQ characters will be required to be removed from classrooms. 

Schools will also be required under SF 496 to get express written consent from a student's parent or guardian before a student can take any survey that isn't required by state or federal law and is designed to assess a student's mental, emotional, or physical health. 

Reynolds also signed Senate File 391 into law. 

SF 391 changes the minimum amount of offerings for world languages for students in grades 9-12 from four courses down to two. Schools now also only need to offer two units — instead of three — of fine arts like dance, music, theater or visual art. 

Health classes must teach about communicable diseases but are not required to include instruction on HIV/AIDS. While none of those topics or offerings are banned, they are just no longer required

SF 391 also limits the number of days that schools can provide online instruction to a maximum of five per year. Schools will no longer be required to submit comprehensive school improvement plans to the Iowa Department of Education.

Comprehensive School Improvement Plans are something schools used to previously turn into the state to chart the path for improving student learning. They did this by reviewing data, setting goals, determining strategies to accomplish those goals and then evaluating the results. 

Those plans will no longer be required; instead, the state is just requiring schools to submit the data that the state is required to submit to the federal Department of Education.  

Also, schools now can hire a librarian who was previously employed by a public library rather than hiring a specialized qualified teacher librarian, which was previously required. 

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