Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed a town hall hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty Feb. 2, 2023, discussing “parental rights” legislation in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican legislators speaking at a “parental rights” event Thursday pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools and policies allowing students to socially transition without their parents’ consent.
“School choice” supporters gathered at Franklin Junior High School in Des Moines Thursday evening for the town hall event, hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty. Reynolds cheered the passage of her private school scholarship plan in the first weeks of the 2023 session, and promised they were not done with education legislation.
“The last few years have provided so many reasons to be in this fight in the arena for kids,” Reynolds said. “And maybe for you it was how they were kept out of school wearing masks for no good reason. Maybe it was demonizing our country. Or an obsession with race in the classroom … I guess my message to you is, stay involved because parents and freedom still matter in Iowa.”
Protesters tried to shout over Reynolds’ speech, with one demonstrator holding up a transgender flag. Others in the room cheered and shouted “USA” as police officers removed protesters from the room.
Supporters celebrated approval of the Educational Savings Account (ESA) program, which gives students an account of $7,598 each year to use for private school tuition and associated costs. The national co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Tina Descovich, said she was excited to hear about Iowa successfully passing ESAs, but said that’s just “one small little portion of issues that are facing public education.”
For years, she said, politicians were not paying much attention to education. But in Iowa and other states across the country, Descovich said parents are putting the issue “front and center” in their state’s policy agendas, and lawmakers in states like Iowa are listening to their requests to let families decide the best educational path for their children.
“I think I think parents want that now, you know, everything in society is more custom made, and so education should be a little bit more accessible and custom made,” Descovich said.
Seven Republican legislators answered questions from attendees about Iowa’s education system. Many questions were focused on class material and discussion around gender identity. Reynolds and parents brought up Linn-Mar Community School District as an example of what’s wrong with modern schools.
The school district has a “gender support policy,” which allows a student to meet with the school to discuss socially transitioning by using a different name, pronouns and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. The district allows children to choose who is involved in those meetings with the school, and lets the child decide whether to involve their parent or guardian.
Lawmaker calls gender-affirming policies a ‘slippery slope’
Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, said school board members claimed the school could not reverse this policy because it would violate state and federal civil rights protections given based on gender identity.
House lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday banning school districts from letting a student use a different name or pronouns than what they were given at birth without written parental consent. House File 190 was also introduced Thursday to remove gender identity as a protected category from the state’s civil rights act.
“Mental illness should not be accommodated as a civil right,” Shipley said Thursday.
When a teacher asked the legislators at the forum about studies that showed the use of a transgender child’s preferred name and pronouns lowers suicide rates, Shipley said there were conflicting reports how to help transgender children with mental health problems. But he said policies like Linn-Mar Community School District’s are a “slippery slope.”
Using a child’s preferred name and pronouns without their parents’ knowledge could lead to them undergoing hormone replacement therapy or having gender-affirming surgeries without their parents consent, he said. How to best support transgender people is a conversation the Legislature will be discussing a lot going forward he said.
“I know other states have done things to prohibit these therapies,” he said, referencing conversation therapy. “So I think this is a conversation we’re going to have to have as a state to really decide what is the best standards of practice of therapy, what do kids need to alleviate the dysphoria and form actual identities that can be healthy and happy for the rest of their lives.”
Lawmakers address concerns about lack of choice access for special-needs students
Multiple parents also brought up concerns about how the ESA program will impact their special needs children. Legislators said they hoped to see expanded private school options for children with special needs, and were in discussions about potential future legislation to encourage more private institutions to special education students and offer more specialized educational programs.
Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he believes some private schools have not accepted special-education students because they didn’t have the resources. “And this bill was going to give them a lot more resources,” he said. “And so I’m hopeful that that alone is going to allow them to take a lot more special needs children.”
The conservative legislators assured the crowd that they would continue to provide parents more options for their children’s schooling going forward. Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston, said Iowa’s decision to desegregate schools 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education shows the state has always been committed to school choice.
“And that is all we are asking, and yes, demanding, that we have the ability to educate our children in the best way at the best school that is appropriate for my child’s success. To prepare my boy, my girl, your child, for success,” Andrews said. “And that’s all school choice.”
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