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Local authors, readers wary of bills aimed at school reading materials

As the DSM Book Festival took over Capital Square, some attendees had their eyes on the legislature.

DES MOINES, Iowa — An annual Des Moines tradition is bringing together reading lovers and some of their favorite authors at a time when books are a hot topic at the statehouse.

Hundreds gathered at Capital Square on March 25 for the DSM Book Festival. But between all the book signings and panels, many attendees had their eyes on the legislature.

Senate File 496, which was approved by the senate on March 22, tightens restrictions on what can be included in school books, such as banning depictions of sexual content. It also requires districts to publish their procedures for parents to request removal of a book. 

Local authors worry that those sorts of restrictions are keeping kids from some important learning. 

"It broadens their worldview, they're one day gonna be out into the real world. And so I think it's important for them to be able to understand, and books are a great way to bridge knowledge and understanding," said Abena Sankofa Imhotep, who was selling her books at the festival.

Just outside the festival, members of Annie's Foundation were giving away copies of books that have been challenged or banned across the country, such as "Goodnight, Racism" and "Sulwe." 

They say the books are important to share with the community—especially those who don't often get to see their own stories. 

"A lot of the times the books those that are being banned and challenged are by and about marginalized people," said Sara Hayden Parris, President & Founder of Annie's Foundation. "And it's important that people have access to books that have characters and life experiences that are like theirs." 

Supporters of Senate File 496 argue that the legislation is a necessary step, as it would give concerned parents the ability to have more of a say in their child's education.

"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," said Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Marion.

After Wednesday night's vote, Senate File 496 is waiting for review by the House education committee.

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