Fines proposed for Iowa schools that violate ‘divisive concepts’ law

A Republican lawmaker claims some schools are ignoring the 2021 law

Fines proposed for Iowa schools violating divisive concepts law

DES MOINES — Iowa schools are barred from teaching so-called “divisive concepts” under a state law passed in 2021, but now some Republican lawmakers are trying to refine the law by imposing fines on educators who violate it.

School districts would be fined between $500 and $5,000 if found to violate the Divisive Concepts Act, according to a proposal approved for the first time in law by Iowa House Republicans in the Iowa Capitol on Wednesday .

The 2021 law defines divisive concepts and includes, for example, teaching students that moral character is determined by one’s race or gender, or that the United States and Iowa are fundamentally or systematically racist.

Steve Holt, a Denison Republican, said the proposal to add fines was necessary because he believes some school districts — he named none — are violating the Divisive Concepts Act.

Agent Steve Holt, R-Denison

“It seems to us that some school districts have failed to comply with this, that some school districts have blatantly ignored it, or that they are just trying to play puns and keep doing the same thing,” Holt said of the proposal during Wednesday’s legislative hearing.

Opponents of the proposal said it failed to provide due process for educators accused of violating the Divisive Concepts Act. The law provides that after filing a complaint, the State Department of Education makes a decision; There is no requirement for the school district or faculty involved to present their case.

“There doesn’t seem to be much protection from due process for educators here. It just seems like there’s an allegation, someone decides whether they did it or not, and that’s it,” said Keenan Crow of LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa.

Education groups also raised concerns about a provision in the proposed law that would require the state Department of Education to take reports from students and parents about potential violations of the Divisive Terms Act and require the department to compile those allegations and report them to lawmakers. Such a report would be a public document.

Michelle Johnson of the Iowa Association of School Boards said this requirement could produce a report that “suggests wrongdoing before anything is proven.”

And a spokesman for the state Department of Education said the department would not be able to handle the expected volume of reports of possible violations in a reasonable timeframe without hiring additional staff.

Holt and Rep. Skyler Wheeler, a Hull Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, signed the House Studies Bill 112 bill for consideration by the House Education Committee. Holt said he was aware of some of the concerns raised and signaled his willingness to address some of them in the bill.

transparency in the school

School districts would also need to post lesson plans and library materials online and have a method for parents to request the removal of those materials under another bill introduced by House Republicans on Wednesday.

House File 5 is similar to last year’s proposed House transparency legislation. The majority of Republicans ultimately did not pass any bills on the issue because the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives failed to agree.

At a legislative hearing on Wednesday, education groups said they are mostly neutral on the bill and that counties are already doing much of what the legislation requires.

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