DES MOINES, Iowa – Two companion bills in the Iowa Senate and Iowa House that prohibit race and sex stereotyping in diversity training in Iowa’s public schools, community colleges, and public universities have advanced.
Last Wednesday, SSB 1205 (now SF 476) passed out of the Iowa Senate Education Committee after being amended due to discussion during and after the bill’s subcommittee hearing.
After being amended, the bill now references federal and state civil rights codes instead of referencing protected classes. It strikes from the bill’s definition of race and sex stereotyping the statement “any other form of race or sex stereotyping.” State Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, who managed the bill in committee, said including that phrase left the definition too open-ended.
It included some language provided by the Iowa Department of Education covering their concerns about the separation of powers related to court adjudicated issues pertaining to mandatory training.
The original bill also prescribed student government organizations that violate campus community members’ First Amendment rights have their authority to manage and disburse student fees stripped for two years. Sinclair’s amendment dropped that the consequence to one year.
Her amendment also included much of the language from SF 238, sponsored by State Senator Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, that protects school employees or officials from dismissal, suspension, or discipline for acting to protect a student’s First Amendment rights.
The committee passed the amendment by a voice vote.
State Senator Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, spoke in support of the bill.
“It’s very important to me to point out it does not affect what is taught in the classroom, what subjects can be discussed with points of view can be discussed, in fact, quite the opposite. It protects. It protects students and faculty, their freedom of speech, their freedom of inquiry, their freedom of political points of view, or other points of view. It does not restrict anything in the way of what goes on in the classroom, or for that matter, the research that faculty may do on related topics, which I think that the research is often quite important in helping us to understand the basis for discrimination, racism, and so forth,” he said.
Quirmbach said the race and sex stereotyping the bill prohibits is what he does not want to see happen in diversity training of campus police officers, administrators, or employees who oversee student organizations.
“I don’t want the training of these people to involve any kind of notion that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex. That is absolutely abhorrent to me. Always is, always will be. It should never be part of the instruction and training of any officer. In fact, we want to promote training that is sensitive to matters of race and that treats people as individuals, according to their individual characteristics. I don’t want, for example, any training to say that an individual by virtue of that individual’s race or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive. I don’t want that training to say that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment entirely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex,” he said.
The bill prohibits “race and sex stereotyping” in diversity training, defined as:
- Ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex.
- Assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex, or claiming that, consciously or unconsciously, and by virtue of persons’ race or sex, members of any race are inherently racist or are inherently inclined to oppress others, or that members of a sex are inherently sexist or inclined to oppress others.
The bill prohibits explicitly prohibits the “divisive concepts” from diversity training unless their discussion is required for context.
- That one race or sex is inherently better than another race or sex.
- That the state of Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist
- By virtue of the individual’s race or sex, an individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex
- That members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.
- That an individual’s race or sex necessarily determines an individual’s moral character.
- By virtue of their race or sex, an individual bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
- That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of that individual’s race or sex
- That meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.
The bill also requires First Amendment training at community colleges and Regent universities for those responsible for discipline, instruction, or administration of the campus community or overseeing student government organizations, distributing activity fee funds, and student government organizations.
SF 478 also requires community colleges and Regent universities to establish and publicize policies that prohibit institutional restrictions and penalties based on protected speech. It prohibits retaliation toward those who file a discrimination complaint.
Finally, the bill requires public school districts, community colleges, and Regent universities to discipline faculty, including termination, which restrict the protected speech or otherwise penalize students. Those licensed by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners could also face discipline by the board.
State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, who opposed the bill, questioned how disciplinary bodies, such as the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, would determine intent.
State Senator Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, also spoke in favor of the bill.
“To me the extending or clarifying or specifying that students, whether at the K-12 level, or at the college level, have free speech rights, freedom of expression, whether it’s written or spoken, that they don’t give those up when they come into the classroom, I think it’s very, very helpful,” he said.
Taylor noted that it is also vital that committee members recognize the power differential between a faculty member and a student, whether it is a liberal professor and conservative student or vice-versa.
“No teacher should use their position to try to silence or harm a student because they disagree with their politics,” he said.
Sinclair, in her closing comments, responded to Trone Garriott’s concerns.
“I would suggest that an educator, in a position of authority over a child, should not have the right to violate what is inherent to that child, and that is their beliefs and values and their ability to express those. And so, I do believe that a staunch stern disciplinary action is available when those situations are the most egregious,” she said, noting that a neutral body like the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners would be fair arbiters.
The bill passed out of the Iowa Senate Education Committee by voice vote, but State Senators Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, Trone Garriott, and Clarie Celsi, D-West Des Moines, wanted their votes against the bill on the record.
The Iowa House companion bill to the original bill filed in the Iowa Senate, HSB 258, passed out of subcommittee on Monday.
Emily Piper, with the Iowa Association of School Boards, organization undecided she encouraged the Iowa House to amend its version of the bill in the same way.
Other organizations such as the Iowa Board of Regents were also undecided, but expressed concerns about the bill.
Keenan Crow with One Iowa Action spoke in opposition to the bill as he did the Senate version the week before.
“Will we be able to talk about systematic oppression? Will we be able to talk about concepts like privilege? That seems unclear,” he said.
Daniel Sunne and Danny Carroll with The FAMiLY Leader spoke in favor of the bill.
“It’s really sad and too bad that you have to advance a bill like this in the first place. That institutions of learning and higher learning have become so hostile to certain points of view that the Iowa Legislature needs to seek some sort of protection,” Carroll said.
The subcommittee consisted of State Reps. Steve Holt, R-Denison, Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, and Skyler Wheeler, D-Orange City.”
Wheeler, who supported the bill, said that Iowans must “reject the religion of wokeness.”
Holt said the concepts addressed in the bill turn what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught on its head. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
“Some of this stuff that’s being taught these days seems to turn that on its head, that by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, if you’re white, you’re automatically this that or the other thing. That is unacceptable,” Holt said.
Wolfe, who did not sign onto the bill, was concerned that concepts like implicit bias would not be able to be part of diversity training and would have a chilling effect.