School transparency bill advancing, as some parents and districts warn against it | Education

DES MOINES (KWWL) – Some parents and school districts are speaking out against a bill that would force schools to post certain course material online for parental review, and also make a clearer path for parents to get books thrown out of their kid’s school library.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to know the syllabus, but I think the reason why they’re pushing for this is for bad reasons,” Amber Young said, a parent in the Waterloo Community School District.

HF 2577, which passed the House Tuesday, requires public school districts and charter schools to send parents a list of all instructional materials their kids will see, a syllabus outlining the course, and an explanation of how the course satisfies state education requirements. “Instructional materials” is defined as “all textbooks and other core materials” but is specified to not include lesson plans.

These items have to be sent to families before the start of every school year, and if the items are altered during the semester, parents have to be notified by the end of that school week. Parents can ask to have their kid excluded from certain materials.

If a teacher or school is found to be in violation of this, they have 14 days to comply, or face a fine of between $500 and $5,000.

The bill also says schools must develop a process for reviewing and removing library books, and give parents a clear process to follow of they want to get a book banned.

There must be an easily accessible database of all library books, and if a parent wants to get a book thrown out, they can send a request to the district. Within 15 business days of that request, the district has to make a recommendation to the school board on whether or not to ban the book.

If the school board decides not to ban the book, the parent can appeal that to the Iowa State Board of Education.

“You’re taking away things that can educate kids and open their minds up to a whole beautiful world out there. And guess what, the world isn’t pretty all the time –and that’s okay– I just think this whole idea of banning books is this whole type of anti-intellectualism where people don’t want their kids to have broad horizons,” Young said.

Republicans supporting the Tuesday bill said this is not meant to be an attack on schools, but rather a step in the direction of parent’s rights and increasing access to materials.

“I disagree with the notion that this bill is an attack. I believe it’s establishing best practice for students and parents to be able to access materials outside of the school day,” Rep. Garrett Gobble said, R-Saylorville.

However, to start this legislative session, Sen. Jake Chapman, President of the Iowa Senate, accused Iowa teachers and the media of having a “sinister agenda” to normalize sexual deviation and child abuse in school.

“To me, it’s catering to those who are trying to fearmonger people into thinking that our kids are being indoctrinated to believe something crazy,” Young said.

The bill requires districts or charter schools to post detailed directions on their websites on how parents can request to see more instructional materials, how they can challenge library books and more.

School districts like the Linn-Mar Community School District oppose the bill, saying it will be a financial burden for them and place more stress on teachers.

“If they request materials, we have a process for them to go through to see what’s being taught. So, that’s already in place. But it’s not regularly posted on the website. So, that would be a big change for us,” Shannon Bisgard said, superintendent for LMCSD.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said there would be no cost to the state with this bill, but there’s potentially a $16.4 million cost to schools around the state for giving teachers time off to post all the required materials.

The LSA estimated that teachers would need three days at the start of the year to prepare all the materials, and it would cost $16.4 million to pay substitutes for the 37,774 teachers throughout the state for three days.

Rep. Gobble, who is also a teacher, objected to this figure, saying schools would do it during the pre-school period. However, that would require teachers either working for free, or coming in on what used to be off days.

The bill passed the House 60-36 Tuesday with one member of each party voting with the other: Republican Chad Ingles voted NO and Democrat Charlie McConkey voted YES. Four Democrats were absent.

The bill is now in the Senate awaiting debate.

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