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Bill allowing parents to sue over ‘obscene’ textbook advances

DES MOINES — Concerns about what some see as obscene material in school libraries and school curricula clashed with concerns about censorship and for educators who feel under attack from some policymakers during a legislative hearing Thursday at the Iowa Capitol.

The hearing focused on Senate File 2198, which would allow parents to take legal action against schools or educators who distribute books or materials that parents deem obscene.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Jake Chapman, of Adel, and supported at Thursday’s hearing by the senses. Brad Zaun from Urbandale and Jason Schultz from Schleswig. All are Republicans.

Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel

Senator Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale

Senator Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig

Chapman said the legislation is necessary because parents have no other recourse when school districts refuse to remove books or other materials that parents consider obscene.

“Parents are totally excluded from this equation. They have no other recourse. That’s why this bill is needed,” Chapman said.

Most districts have a process for parents to raise concerns about materials in libraries or classrooms. Some parents who testified said they raised concerns about certain books, but their district decided not to remove them. Some of the books contain isolated passages that describe or draw pictures that show sexual acts, including incest. Typically, books have larger themes that have little or nothing to do with the passages.

Iowa law states that to meet the definition of “obscene material”, the material, taken as a whole, must lack “serious literary, scientific, political, or artistic value”.

Complaints have generally centered on books featuring LGBTQ characters or written by LGBTQ authors, or involving non-white characters or authors. Chapman and some of the people who supported the bill on Thursday showed pictures and read passages from books they find offensive.

“It’s pornography in our schools. It’s sexually explicit material,” Chapman said.

Speakers who opposed the bill pointed to the process already in place in schools and said teachers, administrators and librarians should be trusted to do their jobs.

“It’s unfortunate that in some cases people feel like the process hasn’t worked properly, and that’s something we can do better by educating our local elected officials on how to do it,” he said. said Emily Piper, lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards. “Our school boards do not knowingly or willfully attempt to inflict pornographic material on our students. We try to do the job to provide quality education.

Melissa Petersen, lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest public teachers’ union, said teachers feel under attack from Republican lawmakers who, in addition to this bill, have proposed require all classrooms to be equipped with cameras to broadcast teaching live so parents can watch their student’s teacher at work. This bill was withdrawn from the legislative process earlier this week.

“What I find terribly difficult about this conversation is the presumption … that there are public education professionals who seek to harm students,” Petersen said. “We seem to be doing everything we can to threaten our public education professionals.”

Chapman and Zaun said they think the majority of teachers in Iowa are good. Chapman denounced the media coverage of his speech on the opening day of Parliament, where he said, “Some teachers disguise sexually obscene material as a desired subject and profess that it has artistic and literary value.”

“I can assure you that 99 percent of teachers in the state of Iowa are great teachers,” Zaun said, noting that his wife is a former Des Moines public school teacher. “It’s not about the teachers. These are the parents. »

With Zaun and Schultz’s approval, the bill can be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Zaun. But its long-term prospects are uncertain.

Jack Whitver, the Republican Senate Majority Leader for Ankeny, has previously said he doesn’t think increasing criminal penalties for educators is the way to address parents’ concerns. Pat Grassley, the Republican House Speaker of New Hartford, said something similar last Friday.

Grassley said House Republicans are focused on transparency.

“We want to make sure there is transparency in our children’s education and make sure parents are involved,” he said. “But I don’t think the criminal penalty exhibit is something the House is going to do…it’s not going to be part of our conversation.”

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