By Katarina Sostaric, Iowa Public Radio
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Tuesday that puts limits on government agency diversity trainings and school lessons related to racism and sexism.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, says trainings and lessons are banned from promoting certain ideas, including that the U.S. and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist. It bans several other concepts, including “race or sex scapegoating” or stereotyping.
In a statement, Reynolds said the law will prevent the teaching of “critical race theory,” though the law does not specifically mention that phrase.
“Critical race theory is about labels and stereotypes, not education. It teaches kids that we should judge others based on race, gender or sexual identity, rather than the content of someone’s character,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I am proud to have worked with the legislature to promote learning, not discriminatory indoctrination.”
Critical race theory starts with the idea that racism is embedded in American society and institutions as slavery’s legacy continues to affect the United States. Republican lawmakers in several states have passed or are considering new laws to limit such discussions.
The new Iowa law says it does not, however, prohibit teaching about slavery, sexism, racial oppression, or laws resulting in segregation and discrimination.
Democrats opposed the bill, saying it could limit implicit bias training and deny the existence of white privilege.
Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, previously said the bill’s language is “vague and suppressive.”
“The GOP’s denial that racism and sexism exist in Iowa denies us all the opportunity to right historical wrongs, address head-on the hate crimes that are on the rise today, and leave a legacy for future generations of equality and justice for all,” Smith said in a statement about the legislation in April. “Now more than ever we must strive to protect our ideals and the right to a world class education that is inclusive of every Iowan’s experience.”
Even before the legislature passed the final version of this bill in May, the Iowa Department of Education had postponed a conference about equity in education scheduled for April because they wanted to ensure teachers were informed of how to comply with the legislation, according to the department spokeswoman.
At the time, educators told Iowa Public Radio they were concerned the bill could prohibit discussions of systemic racism, and make it harder to train teachers to be responsive to diverse students.