Iowa House Moves to Ban Teaching ‘Diversity’ in Public Schools

The Iowa House of Representatives has taken over the reins of former President Trump’s failed attempt at banning diversity education. Iowa State Daily has reported that Republicans in the state government have approved a bill to limit teaching curriculum on “divisive topics” in Iowa public schools.

Even as politicians in New Jersey have gone in the opposite direction, deciding diversity education should be a mandatory part of children’s education, Iowa State Daily’s Mallory Tope has reported that Iowa legislators are moving to drastically limit teaching students about racism, sexism and other ideas promoting inclusion within The Hawkeye State. 

According to Tope, House File 802, which was recently approved by the Iowa House, “states that ‘divisive concepts’ cannot be taught in training or curriculum at Iowa’s schools or governmental agencies. These concepts include the idea an individual is consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist or oppressive due to their race or sex, or that the U.S. or Iowa are systemically racist or sexist.”

“The bill resembles a bill former President Donald Trump signed last year to oppose diversity training that uses critical race theory,” Tope added. “The bill was blocked by a federal judge and President Joe Biden rescinded it in January [2021].”

“I think we have to have these robust discussions,” state Rep. Steven Holt, the floor manager of the bill, said during the debate. “I think we can do that without scapegoating … that the entire nation is racist or that one group has to be this or that. I think that takes us in the wrong direction.”

“Democrats in the House spoke their opposition to the bill, saying it will have an effect on needed discussions about issues like structural racism and implicit bias,” Tope reported. “Some Democrats said the bill lacked clarity and goes against the Republicans’ push for free speech issues.”

“We can’t say on one hand we want freedom of speech, on another hand … say we want to hear both sides, then stifle those sides,” representative Ako Abdul-Samad of Des Moines argued during the debate. 

Tope said that many people opposing the bill worry that if it is passed, many schools and universities may need to drastically alter their curriculum in order to align with the bill.

Katy Swalwell, a professor of education at Iowa State University, told Tope that if the bill passed, the legislation could dramatically impact individuals “who are committed to disrupting racism, sexism and other forms of oppression.”

“It also emboldens people who feel that the campus is ‘theirs’ and seek to push out or silence people from marginalized or minoritized groups,” she said. “It generally sets back efforts to make campus a genuinely more inclusive, supportive, healthy community — efforts that are already incredibly difficult to move forward thanks to deeply rooted institutional oppression.” 

Swalwell told Tope that educating young adults about how racism and sexism operate is essential to building a world where racism and sexism no longer have power. 

“It may make men or white people or others in dominant positions uncomfortable to learn how these systems work, but acknowledging the harm caused is one of the first steps in stopping that harm,” Swalwell said.   

Tope reported that “the Iowa Senate has its own version of this bill on ‘divisive topics.’ Senate File 478 passed with a 33-14 vote. The bill that was passed included required free speech training at educational institutions and discipline for faculty members who restrict protected speech. The bill did not include ‘divisive topics’ that are in House File 802.” 

Now that both bills have been approved, they move into reconciliation with the educational committee, where more debate will take place this week. Depending upon what happens there, a new rule with or without the language banning “diversity training” could be put up for another vote in the coming weeks.

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.