Iowa education leaders propose rules for interpreting controversial law

Book ban, gender pronouns, nicknames, teacher penalties addressed
The state’s teacher’s union says these proposed rules still don’t do enough to clarify the law.
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:55 PM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (Gray Iowa Capitol Bureau) - Senate File 496 brought sweeping changes to education in Iowa. For months, we’ve heard from educators and the state’s teachers that there wasn’t enough guidance on how to comply with the law. Now, they may finally get it.

At the beginning of the school year, some districts were unsure how to deal with students who wished to go by nicknames. Some districts interpreted that as a possible violation of the law because the student was using a name other than the one assigned at birth. The law requires parental permission for that to happen.

Under the proposed new rules, parental permission is no longer required for nicknames unless a student is requesting to go by another name to affirm their gender identity. The Department of Education says districts still must get parental permission if students wish to use pronouns different than the gender they were assigned at birth.

The new law also says districts cannot provide instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Also, Senate File 496 requires districts to take out books from school libraries that depict sex scenes. Several schools started making lists of books they believed needed to be removed from school shelves. Now, the Department of Education says books that do not “describe or visually depict a sex act” can remain.

The new guidance states school districts are exempt from that requirement if they share resources with a public library. It only applies to libraries under the direction of school districts.

If these rules are adopted, educators may face penalties starting the first of the year. Under the law, the first time a violation happens, the district will get a written warning. After that, educators may face disciplinary action by the state.

These proposed rules may not be the last word on Senate File 496. Two public hearings are set for January in Des Moines for people who wish to weigh in.

In a statement, the state’s teacher’s union says these proposed rules still don’t do enough to clarify the law.

“The proposed rules do nothing to address the chilling effect the law created. So far, hundreds of book titles have been pulled from shelves across the state and we’ve created ridiculous amounts of paperwork over topics like student nicknames.

“Public education professionals will still continue to spend valuable instructional time trying to meet vague state mandates.”

The Iowa Department of Education declined our request for an interview. The department says it’d be improper to comment during the rulemaking process.