4 Ways Iowa GOP Lawmakers Are Attacking Students’ Rights

Concealed Carry

If you’re under the age of 18 in Iowa, you already don’t have many rights of your own. You’re at the mercy of adults—including lawmakers, whom you’re not allowed to vote for. Yet.

“Childhood is the one prison from which there’s no escape, the one sentence from which there’s no appeal,” wrote English author P.D. James in her book, “Innocent Blood.” “We all serve our time.”

Some adults try to make that experience better, by trusting the youth with increasing autonomy as they get older or as they have proven themselves responsible.

Others, in a bid for political relevance or clout, use children as scapegoats or pawns to take away the few rights they do have, or rights other adults (like their parents) have given them. Some bills would also put children further in harm’s way.

But young people can (and have been) protesting these radical Iowa bills. And, in a few short years, those kids will be old enough to vote.

So if you’d like to remember what adults tried or succeeded in passing in 2023 to make life harder for you, bookmark this one:

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Attacking LGBTQ students (forced outing, bathroom usage, forced de-transitioning, erasing history and education)

The bills:

What they do: SF 482 (the “bathroom bill”) prevents students from using restrooms/lockers that “do not correspond with the person’s biological sex.” It also prevents schools from enacting their own policies to accommodate trans or non-binary students and allows any Iowan to file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for any suspected violation of this bill.

SF 538, the gender-affirming care ban, bans puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, “if the practice is performed for the purpose of attempting to alter the appearance of, or affirm the minor’s perception of, the minor’s gender or sex, if that appearance or perception is inconsistent with the minor’s sex.”

SF 496 (previously SF 83), which has been nicknamed Iowa’s “Don’t Say Gay/Trans” bill, would bar the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation from K-6 school curriculum. It could forcibly out many LGBTQ students by requiring schools to tell parents or guardians if a student asks to go by a different name or pronouns while at school, regardless of the student’s wishes or their home situation.

That last bill, part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ overall “education” bill, also bans books that aren’t considered “age-appropriate.” Many of those books just happen to be written by authors of color and/or the LGTBQ community, and some of them describe their experiences learning about their sexuality, instances of sexual abuse, and experiences with racism.

How young Iowans have responded: LGBTQ+ students told Starting Line they felt these bills specifically targeted them for their identities, made school—sometimes the only place they felt safe to be themselves—unsafe, and fetishized their identities by making it all about sex and denying their right to hear about queer people in history.

They’ve also been protesting the bills repeatedly, with schoolwide walk-outs and an Iowa Capitol protest that drew hundreds.

Guns allowed on school grounds/NRA curriculum

The bills: Senate File 543 and House File 654

What they do: Both would allow people who have valid concealed carry permits to keep guns on them on school property, but outside the school building itself, as long as the firearms are not visible in school parking lots or driveways when picking up or dropping off a child at school. The bill also allows schools to authorize “a person” to carry, transport, or possess a firearm or ammunition in a school vehicle.

Additionally, if the bills becomes law, no Iowa regent university or community college would be able to implement a policy that bars people from bringing dangerous weapons on campus if those weapons are stored in a locked vehicle and out of plain sight.

The House version of the bill includes an amendment that makes age-appropriate gun safety curriculum developed by the NRA required learning in grades K-12. School districts would have until July 1, 2024, to develop and implement that curriculum.

How young Iowans have responded: Dozens of students protested during a “die-in” in the rotunda of the Iowa Statehouse this week. The protest was put on by student organizers from March for Our Lives Iowa and Iowa WTF.

“We’ve seen in the past few weeks that simply walking into the wrong driveway or going up to the wrong car can get you killed in this country,” said Hannah Hayes, a junior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines and organizer with March for Our Lives. “And easy access to guns in cars will only make this risk much worse.”

Allowed companies to exploit you (by increasing child labor)

The bill: Senate File 542

What it does: SF 542 relaxes Iowa’s child labor laws and allows teenagers to work in more hazardous job conditions, including some that contradict federal law.

How Iowans have responded: Pete Hird of the Iowa Federation of Labor pointed out that 48 Iowans died on the job last year, adding he didn’t want to see young teens added to that list. Connie Ryan of Iowa Interfaith Alliance said poor and nonwhite teens would bear the brunt of the legislation’s harms.

“Can’t attract adult employees to Iowa with a radical agenda? No problem, put the kids to work,” wrote Jen Pellant, president of the Western Iowa Labor Federation, in an op-ed to Starting Line after activists protested the action at the Capitol.

Restricting freedom of speech (social media ban)

The bill: House File 712

What it does: The original version of HF 712 banned anyone under 18 in Iowa from having their own social media accounts. It was written so broadly minors wouldn’t be allowed to use websites that allow users to communicate with each other, which would have included email, online video game services, and even digital education tools.

The amended bill would give parents something they can already control: Oversight of their child’s social media accounts. But, by mandating social media companies get that permission, it could also lead parents to give up more of their own personal information to those largely unregulated companies.

How young Iowans have responded: Iowa WTF, a youth-led organization, noted during the debate on the original bill that lawmakers seemed to be targeting the very method young people use to organize and talk about bills such as these.




by Amie Rivers

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