Iowa Teacher Fights Back Against Controversial Book Ban Law, Seeks Guidance for Inclusive Education

Des Moines, Iowa – A special education teacher in Des Moines Public Schools has expressed concerns over the removal of books from his classroom due to a new state education law. Dan Gutmann, along with several other plaintiffs, has filed a lawsuit against the state over the law, which restricts instruction and curriculum relating to gender identity and sexual orientation for students up to sixth grade. The law also bans books that depict sex acts. While a federal judge has temporarily blocked the enforcement of major portions of the law, Gutmann and other educators still await clear guidance on how to comply.

Gutmann’s classroom collection includes books that feature diverse family structures, LGBTQ characters, and individuals from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. He argues that these books do not include explicit sexual content, which the law prohibits. Gutmann believes that representation in literature is crucial for students and helps them navigate and understand different experiences.

The litigation surrounding the law, known as Senate File 496, is ongoing. The lawsuits, filed by Iowa families and an LGBTQ advocacy group, as well as publisher Penguin Random House and authors whose books were banned, claim that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and discriminates against LGBTQ viewpoints. U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher has blocked two key provisions of the law, including the prohibition on instruction regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools, as well as the ban on books depicting or describing sex acts.

While the injunction offers temporary relief, it does not mandate the return of removed books or changes to curriculum. School districts across Iowa are handling the injunction inconsistently, with some reshelving books while others await further guidance. The Iowa Department of Education has released proposed rules for the implementation of the law but has yet to provide clear directives or a timeline for their release.

Advocates argue that damage has already been done to school library collections, as many books were removed to comply with the law. Librarians and district administrators have spent significant time vetting books, diverting their attention from other responsibilities. The question remains whether districts feel legally secure enough to reintroduce the books that were taken off the shelves.

Gutmann, while relieved by the injunction, is concerned about the potential for future legislation in the new session and is evaluating whether to continue in the field of education. He hopes that teachers and the community can work together to prevent the passage of similar laws in the future.

The outcome of the lawsuits and the eventual implementation of Senate File 496 will determine how Iowa educators can navigate the inclusion of diverse literature in their classrooms and ensure the representation of all students’ experiences.