The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City K-12 student lead plaintiff in lawsuit to block Iowa law

The lawsuit aims to block certain provisions of Senate File 496 that target LGBTQ+ students.
Jerod Ringwald
The Iowa State Capitol is seen during the first day of the 90th Iowa legislative session at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

Iowa City K-12 student Puck Carlson was named as one of seven plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit brought by civil rights advocacy groups to permanently block an Iowa law that prohibits schools from talking about LGBTQ+ topics and requires them to ban books that depict sexual topics.

Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed the suit on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools, a nonprofit focused on advocating for LGBTQ+ students in Iowa, in federal court in the Southern District of Iowa on Tuesday challenging the law’s constitutionality.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the extensive education bill, Senate File 496, into law in May after the law passed the Iowa legislature with only Republican support for the bill.

The lawsuit comes as school districts across the state have preemptively banned hundreds of books from their shelves, including Iowa City schools that recently removed 68 books to comply with the state law.

School districts across the state have attempted to navigate the state’s new law while waiting for guidance from the state.

Administrators and librarians have said the lack of detailed guidance has caused confusion, extraordinary measures, and differing implementations of the law across the state. However, that guidance finally came from the Iowa Board of Education on Nov. 15 but the lawyers with the plaintiffs in the case say it was not enough.

“This law is deeply confusing and schools have been at a loss on how to comply, even after consulting with their attorneys,” Thomas Story, the staff attorney for ACLU of Iowa, said in a news release on Tuesday. “This law has thrown the school year into chaos as schools struggled to figure out how to comply with this confusing law.”

Carlson said the law has negative effects on LGBTQ+ students outside of banning topics related to LGBTQ+ themes and books that depict sex acts. Carlson said it can make LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe or unwelcome in Iowa schools.

“Removing books that discuss queer topics or people from our schools tells our queer students that they do not belong there, that their existence is shameful,” Carlson said.

Reynolds said the law is not intended to target LGBTQ+ kids but to keep “pornography” out of school libraries where they are accessible to elementary students.

“Protecting children from pornography and sexually explicit content shouldn’t be controversial,” Reynolds said in a news release on Tuesday. “The real controversy is that it exists in elementary schools. Books with graphic depictions of sex acts have absolutely no place in our schools.”

The law also requires schools to inform parents if a student asks to go by a chosen name or pronoun at school, regardless of any expectation of confidentiality.

Executive Director of Iowa Safe Schools Becky Tayler said this provision puts LGBTQ+ students in danger of being outed to parents who aren’t accepting and might harm the student.

“Students also deserve better than being forcibly outed,” Tayler said. “When a student feels more safe confiding in a teacher or counselor about their gender or sexuality than a parent, there’s a reason for that.”

According to a 2022 report by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ mental health advocacy organization, 28 percent of LGBTQ+ youth report facing homelessness and housing instability at some point in their lives.

The lawsuit challenges three parts of the law that they argue are unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution’s First and 14th Amendments:

  • The ban on teaching about LGBTQ+ topics before sixth grade.
  • The requirement for districts to remove books with depictions of sex acts from schools libraries and classrooms.
  • The requirement that school staff inform parents if their child wants to use a chosen name or pronouns.

The bill was one of three anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2023 pertaining to Iowa’s public schools, according to an anti-LGBTQ+ bill tracker from One Iowa Action an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

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About the Contributors
Liam Halawith
Liam Halawith, Politics Editor
Liam Halawith is a third-year student at the University of Iowa studying Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Public Policy. Before his role as Politics Editor Liam was a politics reporter for the DI. Outside of the DI Liam has interned at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Southeast Iowa Union. This is his second year working for the DI.
Jerod Ringwald, Creative Director
Jerod Ringwald is the Creative Director at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. He was previously a managing editor this past summer as well as a former photo editor. During his sophomore year, he worked as a photojournalist covering news and sports.