Story at a glance

  • A lawmaker in Iowa has proposed a bill allowing parents to opt their children out of school instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Critics say the bill would make it difficult for teachers to educate their students on LGBTQ+ related subjects.
  • A subcommittee has passed the bill and is recommending it to the state’s majority-Republican general assembly.

When schools teach students about the 2020 election, how will they discuss Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay man in the country to launch a major presidential campaign and win primary delegates? In Iowa, teachers might not say anything at all under proposed legislation. 

A bill recommended by an Education subcommittee would allow parents to opt their children out of any instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Not all parents want others to teach their children about sexual orientation and gender identity because it, too, involves family religious beliefs about sexuality and sexual ethics. Not all families agree with the viewpoint held by many schools regarding sexual identity issues and they should be allowed to opt out of instruction that contains that,” Rep. Sandy Salmon, a sponsor of the bill, said at a hearing reported by the Des Moines Register.

The subcommittee passed and recommended the legislation to the larger Education committee by a 2-1 vote. Rep. Tom Moore, who joined Salmon in voting for the bill, said it needed more work, but should be discussed by the full Education committee.  

The bill would require schools to inform parents of all instruction relating to sexual orientation or gender identity, with an option to opt students out. Critics pointed out that the language is vague, suggesting that parents would also need to be informed about mentions of heterosexual or cisgender subjects and that it would prevent organic discussions from developing in class. 

Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy with One Iowa Action, said at the hearing that the requirements could discourage teachers from discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity altogether, particularly LGBTQ+ subjects.

Salmon conceded that the language needed to be refined, telling the Register that she didn't intend for simple mentions of a historical figure such as Buttigieg to require notification. But others say schools should be allowed to handle the issue on a local level. 

"We have a system for that with local school boards," said Rep. Art Staed at the hearing. "To say that there's no parent input right now, I think, is ridiculous. I just retired from teaching two years ago. I can tell you, parent input is always part of the process of everything that we do."

Published on Feb 14, 2020