Teachers and students concerned over proposed education bills

House Bill 2499 and Senate File 2198 are two pieces of education legislation raising concern for students and teachers.


Braden Ernst

The Iowa City Community School District building is seen on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

Emily Delgado, Politics Reporter

Students and educators fear that legislation addressing educational material in Iowa schools will ostracize LGBTQ+ students and students of color and discourage teachers from working in the state.

“I’m very worried for young people…I’m scared for the younger kids because thankfully, I have had, you know, the first four years of high school to be able to talk about that kind of stuff and think freely in the classroom but now it’s just a lot harder,” Frances Bottorff, an Iowa City High School student said.

Bottorff, a high school senior, said she feels that she was privileged to attend K-12 education at a time when education was not being attacked.

Ali Borger-Germann, an Iowa City Community School District English teacher, said it seems that the Legislature is trying to approach education with a “one size fits all” approach.

House File 2499 and Senate File 2198 were the two education-centered bills that survived the Legislature’s funnel deadline.

House File 2499 would require school districts to publish an online list of materials like textbooks, videos, handouts, and syllabi that will be used in their social and studies classes. School districts also must provide a flowchart that shows parents the process for submitting a complaint about a material to the district.

Senate File 2198 would prohibit the distribution of “obscene” materials and books throughout schools.

“We’re working with Republicans to try to improve or change or alter bills that came out of committee that in essence are really damaging to education,” Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said

Although these bills have passed through committee, this does not mean they will become laws, Mascher, a member of the House Education Committee, said.

Borger-Germann said that Iowa City High School, the school she teachers at, already publishes the overall curriculum and material list.

“The cost of putting all of those materials online could be significant for some districts, some are already doing it,” Masher said.

Mascher, who is a retired Iowa City school teacher, recalled when she had to teach about the space shuttle Challenger explosion to her class. Mascher said forcing teachers to publish their curriculum ahead of time will prohibit them from teaching current events like this that happen during class.

“Am I going to be prevented from doing things like that? That’s ridiculous. That’s what teachers are paid for — being flexible, being able to think quickly and shift in place. In fact, that’s what we’re hired to do,” Mascher said.

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Mascher said Democrats are also questioning if HF 2499 would allow for teachers to review certain topics with students after they appear in the curriculum.

“I think that will end up hurting students and reducing creativity in the classroom,” Bottorff said.

Mascher said that Iowa’s teacher shortage is something that is top priority for Democrats.

The Iowa Department of Education is projecting a teacher shortage in several subject areas for the 2022-2023 school year, including in all social studies subjects.

“We’re already having trouble finding teachers. Dictating to them what they can and can’t do, to that extent, is going to create another crisis with people saying: ‘I don’t want to go into education,’” Mascher said.

Borger-Germann said that if she still were in school, these legislative acts would make her not want to become a teacher.

“I think a lot of the student teachers and practicum students that I’ve had have graduated and gone elsewhere because this is no longer a leading state and education,” Borger-German said. “It’s really sad because a lot of them came here because we were leaving the state and education.”

As a student, Bottorff also sees these actions on education by the legislature as a reason why people do not want to become teachers in Iowa.

Senate File 2198 defines “obscene materials” as “depicting patently offensive representations” of sexual acts.

Many of the books that lawmakers have taken issue with, such as The Hate U Give, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and Gender Queer, center LGBTQ+ and non-white characters.

“I don’t think that schools should distribute pornography if that’s what you’re asking, but I don’t think that a book that features a LGBTQ+ main character is pornography. I think it’s just reality,” Borger-Germann said.

In a Feb. 16 senate judiciary committee meeting, Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, spoke in support of the bill, saying he is not interested in banning books.

“I am not interested in putting teachers in jail,” Zaun said. “That’s not what we’re doing here. What we’re trying to do is empower parents to decide if these materials are appropriate.”

Last session, Gov. Reynolds signed a bill that banned certain concepts relating to gender and race deemed to be divisive by the law’s supporters from Iowa schools’ curriculum. The topics include the idea that one race or sex is superior to another, or that the United States or Iowa are inherently racist or sexist.

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Bottorff said teaching critical race theory in public schools is important because students don’t learn enough about the civil rights movement, though even before Reynolds signed the bill into law, critical race theory was not being taught widely in public schools.

“I think there’s always more room for more intersectionality and diversity. And so, yes, I think critical race theory should be talked about in schools for sure,” Bottorff said.

Miles Hedgecock, a freshman at Ottumwa High School, said he knows that in Tennessee, schools banned LGBTQ+ point of view books because parents did not like their children reading these books.

In Tennessee, a similar bill to Chapman’s was introduced and advanced through a subcommittee.

“If our parents are like the people that are very against LGBTQ…I’m afraid that they will ban books for that reason,” Hedgecock said.

During her Condition of the State address, Reynolds introduced efforts she said would increase parents’ influence over their child’s education. Reynolds said her priorities for education this year included requiring class materials to be published online.

“So to the parents who are listening tonight, who are frustrated with what’s happening, know that I and members of this Legislature have heard you loud and clear. Enough is enough. Parents matter, and we’re making sure you stay in charge of your child’s education,” Reynolds said in her Jan. 11 address.

Mascher said parents do have a right to know what their children are reading in school, but that they shouldn’t be setting the agenda for everyone.

“Because one parent objects, then it doesn’t mean that they get to decide for the entire school district whether that book should be or should or shouldn’t be in the library. The other thing is, I really believe parents need to be more engaged in their children’s education,” Mascher said.

Bottorff said that by not having books that are about BIPOC or LGBTQ+ it will cause students that are a part of these communities to feel ostracized.

“I think that there are lawmakers who have an opinion when they shouldn’t,” Bottorff said. “They aren’t teachers and they do not know how education or teaching works.”

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