State appeals court block on Iowa’s law restricting school books, LGBTQ subjects

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Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird announced she is appealing the injunction on an Iowa law restricting books in public schools with depictions of sexual acts and material featuring "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" for younger students. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch) | La fiscal general de Iowa, Brenna Bird, anunció que va a apelar la orden judicial sobre una ley de Iowa que restringe los libros en las escuelas públicas con representaciones de eventos sexuales y material sobre "identidad de género" y "orientación sexual" para los estudiantes más jóvenes. (Foto de Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
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By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch

The state of Iowa is appealing a federal judge’s decision to block enforcement of a law that removes books with sexual content from public schools and restricts material related to LGBTQ+ subjects for younger students.

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird filed notice Friday of appeals in the two court cases challenging Senate File 496. The law was challenged in suits filed late last year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Lambda Legal and by book publisher Penguin Random House and the Iowa State Education Association.

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Three provisions in the law were targeted in the lawsuits: measures barring books that feature depictions of sexual acts from school libraries, restricting content including “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” from appearing in instruction and material for K-6 students, and notifying parents if a student requests the use of a different name or pronouns.

Plaintiffs argued these measures violate Iowa students’ constitutional rights to equal protection, free speech, free association and due process, as well as equal protection clauses.

In late December, U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher of the Southern District of Iowa issued an injunction on the “age-appropriate” books and K-6 material sections of the law, blocking enforcement of the days before it was set to begin Jan. 1.

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Bird announced she would appeal Locher’s decision to the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of defendants, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow, the state Board of Education and state Board of Educational Examiners chair Chad Janzen.

Bird said Friday she was glad to appeal the decision and move to “uphold Iowa’s law that keeps sexually explicit books out of the hands of our kids in school.”

“Iowa’s law is clear; sexually explicit books and materials have no place in our elementary school classrooms or libraries,” Bird said in a statement. “As a mom, I share parents’ concerns and remain committed to keeping our schools a safe place for kids to learn and grow. With this appeal, we will continue the fight to protect Iowa families and to uphold Iowa’s law in Court.”

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Though the enforcement date was set to begin Jan. 1, the rulemaking process for enacting the law is still in progress. The Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee advanced the education department’s draft rules during a Monday meeting. The Iowa Board of Education must issue final approval of the rules before they go into effect.

Education officials said the board will likely not discuss the rules until the March meeting. While the ongoing lawsuits could mean that certain parts of the law remain unenforceable by injunction, other sections, like the parental notification of a child’s request to use a different name, could be enforceable after the board’s decision.

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