Senate panel endorses criminal penalties for educators who distribute ‘hard-core porn’ to students

By: - February 10, 2022 2:41 pm

A parent reads excerpts from a book she believes should be banned from schools during a subcommittee meeting Feb. 10, 2022 at the State Capitol. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A panel of state senators heard more than an hour of public comment Thursday before advancing a bill that would impose criminal penalties on educators for providing “obscene material” or “hard-core pornography” to students in a classroom or school library.

Senate File 2198 would create a criminal penalty for teachers or school officials who provide “obscene material” or “hard-core pornography” in school libraries or require such materials to be used in class. Violations would be a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,560.

Parents and one 16-year-old student read passages in a subcommittee meeting about sex acts from books they said were available in school libraries across the state, including “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.

“I don’t understand how these kinds of materials can be made available to our kids and our schools,” said Pam Gronau, a parent of three children in the Urbandale School District. She said parents in 10 central Iowa communities have tried to have books removed that they considered obscene and only one book was removed.

Samantha Fett of Carlisle said she tried to have the book “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe removed from her school library, without success.  “I’m here because I need you guys to hear this story that we are fighting back … at the local level, and we’re losing,” Fett said.

Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel and author of the bill, held up a photocopied page of a graphic novel in front of TV cameras.  “… I dare KCCI to show these images. This is pornography in our schools. This is sexually explicit material, of oral sex,” he said.

Opponents of the bill, including representatives of teachers and school board associations and school librarians, argued there is already a process in place for parents to opt out of having their child read a book in class or to request a book be removed from school libraries.

“I appreciate there seem to be conflicting definitions of what constitutes obscene material. At the end of the day, if someone is concerned, there are already mechanisms in place to address these challenges,” said Melissa Petersen, lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, accused Republicans on the committee of using the legislation to attack public schools. “This bill is an attack on our kids and Iowans by threatening to put our beloved public school teachers and librarians in prison. The bill is part of an orchestrated attack on Iowa’s public education system,” she said.

Iowa City school board member Maka Pilcher Hayek, who opposed the bill, remarked, “I feel like we are in the ‘Footloose’ movie right now. … I mean, that is a very sad state for Iowa.”

Chapman said after the meeting he intends to increase the penalties in the bill to an aggravated misdemeanor for first offense and a Class D felony for subsequent offenses, to match current Iowa law on providing “hard-core pornography” to minors.

Senate File 2198 moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, its future is uncertain. Gov. Kim Reynolds has her own proposal requiring schools to be transparent with their curricula and school library contents.

House Speaker Pat Grassley said Thursday he doesn’t anticipate House approval for criminal penalties for educators.

“I would say from the standpoint of criminal penalties and things like that, that’s not the approach that we’re looking at taking in the House,” Grassley said. “We’re still working through some of those transparency issues — whether it’s with the governor’s bill, whether it’s through bills that we’re creating right now — we want to make sure there is transparency in our children’s education and making sure the parents have involvement.”

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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