Iowa bans ‘divisive concepts’ from diversity trainings, school curriculum

Des Moines students gathered at the State Capitol on April 26 to protest two education bills, including one restricting teaching related to racism and sexism. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa schools, public universities and governmental agencies will not be allowed to teach certain concepts in their curriculum or diversity trainings under a law signed Tuesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

House File 802 prohibits school curriculum and mandatory diversity training from including certain concepts that Republican lawmakers identified as divisive. Among the prohibited topics are the concepts that Iowa or the United States are “fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist,” or that any individual is inherently or unconsciously racist or sexist due to that person’s race or gender.

The language of the law closely mirrors a September 2020 executive order from former President Donald Trump that forbade governmental agencies and federal contractors from conducting training that would “promote race or sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”

In December, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against that executive order. President Joe Biden rescinded the order soon after taking office.

Trump’s executive order outlined nine specific “divisive concepts” that could not be included in training. The Iowa law lists those same  nine concepts, nearly verbatim. Lawmakers changed the bill to refer to the list as “specific, defined concepts” rather than “divisive.”

Reynolds praised legislators for their work against “discriminatory indoctrination.”

“Critical Race Theory is about labels and stereotypes, not education,” she said in a Tuesday news release. “It teaches kids that we should judge others based on race, gender or sexual identity, rather than the content of someone’s character.”

The law faced significant opposition as it passed through the statehouse. Democrats said the legislation would create a chilling effect for teachers, causing them to shy away from controversial topics. Hundreds of Des Moines Public School students, teachers and parents gathered on the Capitol steps in late April to oppose the legislation, arguing it would make it more difficult to address societal issues of racism and discrimination.

Lawmakers passed an amendment to the bill days later that specifies schools may still teach about “sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, or racial discrimination,” as well as policies that result in sexism, racism, segregation or oppression.

The law goes into effect on July 1.

What specific concepts does House File 802 prohibit?

  1. “That one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.”
  2. “That the United States of America and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.”
  3. “That an individual, solely because of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
  4. “That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex.”
  5. “That members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.”
  6. “That the individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by the individual’s race or sex.”
  7. “That an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
  8. “That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”
  9. “That meritocracy or traits such as hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.”
  10. “Any other form of race or sex scapegoating or any other form of race or sex stereotyping.”