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Iowa Senate passes education bill restricting school books, gender identity discussion

If it were to pass the House, the hefty bill would change what reading materials and education topics are available to students.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Parents may soon have more say in what books are in their children's classroom. 

The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 496 Wednesday, a packed bill that would expand guardians' ability to make decisions affecting their child's education. But that's only a small part of what this bill includes. 

The bill would also require school districts to list all books and instructional material used in their class online for parents to access.

Republicans like Sen. Ken Rozenboom said that some books are too explicit for schools.

"There's a mountain of evidence that many Iowa school libraries contain books that do provide sexually explicit and obscene pictures and narratives many Iowa parents find objectionable," Rozenboom said.

But Democrats say some of the books likely to be banned cover important topics for kids to learn about.

"Prohibiting such literature sends messages to students that certain topics are taboo or shameful, creating an environment that is not conducive or open for honest dialogue," said Sen. Claire Celsi, D-Polk County.

President of the Iowa State Education Association Mike Beranek said this requirement would be difficult for teachers to meet.

"There are teachers who have at least 1,000 titles on their shelves that are available. And just the amount of time that will take to provide all that information before school starts is just insane for that educator," Beranek said. "We want to make sure as educators that our children see themselves in the materials that are provided to them."


The legislation would also establish a thorough process for parents to speak out against materials they deem inappropriate in elementary school, including instruction about gender identity and sexuality. 

"Our children now are to be simply taught what .... [some believe] society needs our children to know. I believe that's the fundamental issue we're addressing in Senate File 496," Rozenboom said.

If the bill were to become law, it would restrict teachers working with grades K-5 or K-6, if sixth grade is an elementary school in that district.

"The primary selling point of this bill is to enhance parental rights. Unfortunately, the bill doesn't do that. In fact, it does more in the opposite direction," said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Story County.

The bill also proposes changes to rules regarding students health screenings and a change to the social studies curriculum requiring all Iowa students to pass the citizenship test.

The bill has not yet gone through the House.

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