S.F. 496: Parents’ Rights Over Students’ Well-Being and Education

Iowa’s Legislature passed Senate File 496 which states that parents’ rights are more important than students’ well-being and education.
S.F. 496: Parents’ Rights Over Students’ Well-Being and Education

Imagine a society where every child is educated purely on what their parents want them to learn. This society would entirely consist of close-minded and uneducated individuals. This is the society that Iowa’s legislature was dreaming of when they passed S.F. 496. 

This law does numerous things including but not limited to banning books that contain “obscene material,” requiring parent permission if a student wishes to go by different pronouns, requiring parent permission to survey students on their mental well-being and removing the requirement to educate students on HIV and HPV prevention and availability of vaccines. These new restrictions on education operate under the guise of helping students’ well-being and education, but they are ultimately detrimental to students, particularly to those who are transgender or nonbinary.

S.F. 496 requires that if a student expresses that they would like to go by a different name or gender other than what appears on their birth certificate, the school must contact the student’s parents and receive permission to address the student by their preferred pronouns and name. 

This poses a risk to transgender and nonbinary youth whose families may not be accepting of who they are. According to The Trevor Project, 68% of transgender or nonbinary youth report that their home is not accepting of their gender identity. This law forcibly outs transgender and nonbinary youth to their parents, 68% of whom won’t be accepting of who they are. 

The Pediatric Clinics of North America states the lack of acceptance the transgender and nonbinary youth face from their parents ultimately causes the child to be more prone to depression and substance abuse along with inhibiting the child’s ability to cope. While parents deserve to know what’s happening with their child, it should not come at the expense of the child’s mental health. This law directly harms transgender and nonbinary youth, purely because Iowa’s legislature feels that parents’ rights are more important than the well-being of the child. However, parents’ rights are just what they say the law is about. In reality, this law is intentionally putting transgender and nonbinary youth at risk purely because of the transphobic views conservative Republicans hold.

S.F. 496 also requires that a school receives written parent permission to survey a student on their mental, emotional or physical health. This drastically limits the school’s ability to help students who may be struggling mentally. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 14% of adolescents suffer from mental illnesses. The WHO also states that detecting and treating mental illnesses early is crucial in helping adolescents with mental health issues. This law completely inhibits the school’s ability to detect students who may suffer from mental illnesses by removing a school’s ability to conduct a school-wide survey on mental health. According to the National Institute of Education Statistics, 96% of public schools report providing mental health services. However, if a school is unaware of which students may require these services, they’ll end up being underutilized, leading to increases in self-harm and attempted suicide. Parents should have a right to know what their child is being surveyed on but requiring their permission inhibits the school’s ability to help students who are suffering from mental health issues.

Another clause of S.F. 496 requires that all books containing “obscene material” must be removed from school libraries. According to The Iowa Code, Chapter 728, Section 1, Subsection 5, defines “obscene material” as “any material depicting or describing the genitals, sex acts, masturbation, excretory functions or sadomasochistic abuse which the average person, taking the material as a whole and applying contemporary community standards with respect to what is suitable material for minors, would find appeals to the prurient interest and is patently offensive; and the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value.” 

One may read this and assume that prominent books that are taught in schools are exempt from this due to them having value but, S.F. 496 states that a material does not hold value if there is a different, substantially similar material which does not contain “obscene material.” This has caused many schools to start removing many prominent books that explore topics such as racism, sexism, sexuality, and gender. For example, some prominent books that Urbandale Public School District has prohibited in their libraries are “1984” by George Orwell, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelo, “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” by Art Spiegelman, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. It should be self-explanatory that these books hold literary value regardless of whatever “obscene material” they may contain.

 “1984” and “Maus” explore the dangers of a totalitarian government and censorship. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” explores topics of racism and sexism. “The Catcher in the Rye” discusses the issues of mental illness and identity crises. “The Fault in Our Stars” explores the topics of love and death. “The Handmaid’s Tale” discusses the importance of finding your sense of self when faced with oppression. “The Hate U Give” discusses racism and police brutality and inspires the reader to use their voice to protest the system. 

The common theme among these books is that they discuss topics that conservative Republicans don’t want addressed. The removal of these books is conservative Republicans censoring the views of their opposition in an attempt to maintain their party’s relevance as younger generations become increasingly liberal. The excuse of removing these books because of “obscene material” is not even relevant because it is not children reading these books, it’s high school students who are more than mature enough to read about sex. These are people who are nearly adults, who nearly have the right to vote, and who Republicans desperately need to stop voting blue. This isn’t about parents’ rights, this is about censoring the opposition and maintaining political control, the very thing 1984, a book they’re censoring, warns about.

On January 24th, 2023, Linn-Mar school board representative Rachel Wall made a post on Facebook saying,

“The purpose of a public ed is to not teach kids what the parents want. It is to teach them what society needs them to know. The client is not the parent, but the community.”

In response to Wall’s comment, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Ken Rozenboom said, 

“Really? Public schools should no longer serve the parents of K-12 students? Our children are now to be simply taught what this person believes society needs our children to know?” 

The entire point of public education is to prepare children for their entrance into society and the workforce. The government puts standards into place that clearly define the bare minimum that every child should learn. These standards were decided on because it was determined that a person needs to know all of this information in order to be a functioning member of society. As the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Rozenboom should understand that it is undeniably true that public schools teach children what society needs them to know. 

Parents do deserve the right to be aware of what is happening with their children, but it should never come at the expense of a child’s well-being or education. S.F. 496 puts transgender and nonbinary youth at risk of facing retaliation from their parents for who they are, damages the school’s ability to help their mentally ill students, and censors books that oppose the views of conservative Republicans. This law is purely based on transphobic beliefs and censorship of the opposition, demonstrating the downward spiral that our state and country are in. The only choice there is for the future is to vote the supporters of this law out of office; exercise democracy, instate new rule.

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  • Kaycee SchippersNov 5, 2023 at 10:39 am

    Well done Sam!! This is a well written, truthful and concise article. You should he proud of yourself for using your voice to advocate for ALL students!