Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds deliverw the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address on the evening of March 1, 2022. (Pool)
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds deliverw the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on the evening of March 1, 2022

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday signed a bill to prohibit students from kindergarten through grade six in the state from being provided instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation.

The legislation, Senate File 496, also has several other provisions to restrict age-inappropriate instruction and give parents and guardians more ways to oversee and guide their child’s education with regard to these issues. The other provisions in the law generally apply to or affect all levels from pre-K through grade 12.

This includes banning any books that contain “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” from libraries and from classroom instruction. However, religious texts will be exempted.

Under the new law, school administrators must notify parents if the student asks to be referred to by a different pronoun or name compared to their biological sex, or name they were given at birth.

SF 496 had passed the state Senate in a 34–16 vote and the state House in a 57–38 vote in April. All Democrats in both chambers had opposed the bill, but that couldn’t stop the GOP majority from passing it.

It was one of seven education-related bills Reynolds signed Friday.

“This legislative session, we secured transformational education reform that puts parents in the driver’s seat, eliminates burdensome regulations on public schools, provides flexibility to raise teacher salaries, and empowers teachers to prepare our kids for their future,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

“Education is the great equalizer and everyone involved—parents, educators, our children—deserves an environment where they can thrive.”

Other Provisions of SF 496

SF 496 also requires more transparency from schools. For example, each school district must put its library catalog online. The school must also explain on its website how parents can request the school to not provide to their child, or to completely remove, a given book or other educational material that the school provides to students via the classroom or library.

Separately, schools must first obtain permission from the parent or guardian to administer certain tests or surveys if the tests aren’t required by state or federal law. Such tests could assess their mental, emotional, or physical health. This also applies to invasive physical examinations or health screenings that are not required under state or federal law.

If the tests are required by state or federal law, the schools must notify the parent or guardian at least 7 days prior, and provide them a copy of, or an online link to, the examination or survey.

With regard to other tests or surveys that would reveal other information about the students or their family—including political affiliations; mental or psychological problems; sexual orientation, behavior, or attitudes; illegal, anti-social, or demeaning behavior; religious attitudes; income; and more—parents would need to give consent before the student is required to take them.

SF 496 requires schools to, at appropriate ages, teach about sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent and control their spread. But the new law has removed the mandate for schools to teach students about HIV/AIDS, HPV, and the availability of an HPV vaccine.

Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) cheered on Reynolds, calling her “THE parents’ rights governor!”

“Grateful for her strong leadership to protect our kids and stand up for parents,” Hinson wrote on Twitter.

Opponents React

Iowa’s largest teachers’ union—the Iowa State Education Association—opposed the legislation. Mike Beranek, the group’s president, said in a statement that Reynolds has “cemented laws that are designed to intimidate, censor, and harm the educators and students who work in and attend our public schools.”

Democrat state Rep. Lindsay James, the House Minority Whip, said on Twitter: “For all the LGBTQ+ kids and families who feel targeted by the governor and her allies this session, we see you and we love you. You deserve the freedom to be yourself and be happy without interference from politicians. We’re going to keep fighting for you.”

Becky Tayler, the executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, an LGBT advocacy group, called the new law “anti-child, anti-parent, and anti-educator,” per The Gazette. Tayler added that Reynolds signing the law is akin to marking a “crusade against LGBTQ youth.”

Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa, another LGBT advocacy group, said that SF 496 “punches down on [a] vulnerable group of kids, and it benefits no one,” reported the Court House News.

Iowa’s Transgender-Related Laws

Reynolds has in recent months helped to pass laws related to transgender issues.

On March 22, she signed two pieces of legislation. The first, Senate File 538, bans doctors from providing gender-affirming procedures and drugs for those under the age of 18.

The second, Senate File 482, bans students from using bathrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex.

Another law, House File 2416, signed by Reynolds in 2022, prohibits biologically male athletes from competing in female sports programs at high school and women’s college.

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