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Bill limiting concepts in government diversity training, school curriculum heads to Gov. Kim Reynolds

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 5/7/2021 Ian Richardson, Des Moines Register
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Neither classroom instruction at schools nor mandatory diversity training for government groups could teach certain concepts, such as that the United States is systemically racist, under a measure headed to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' desk. 

The Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives passed House File 802 by a 53-35 vote Thursday evening, just over a week after the Iowa Senate passed it by a 30-18 vote. The votes in both chambers broke along party lines. 

The bill places limitations on the ideas that could be included in diversity training at those institutions, resembling a now-reversed executive order that President Donald Trump signed last year to oppose critical race theory, which teaches that racism is interwoven into America's institutions.

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Iowa Republicans have called critical race theory racist and said the bill would prevent student "indoctrination." Democrats have said the bill would have a chilling effect on needed discussions about racism and sexism, including concepts like structural racism and implicit bias. 

During floor debate Thursday, Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, the bill's floor manager, said the bill — and an amendment the Senate added last week — makes it clear the proposed law would not prevent discussions on slavery, sexism, racial oppression or discrimination. But Holt said teachers "don't have to use racism to teach against racism."

a clock tower in front of a building: The Iowa State Capitol building on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Des Moines, IA. © Brian Powers/The Register The Iowa State Capitol building on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Des Moines, IA.

"Of course these issues must be taught. They must be discussed, and they can be without scapegoating entire groups of people," Holt said. 

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said the change the Senate made to explicitly say the bill doesn't ban discussions on racism doesn't change the negative impact the bill could have. 

"All this amendment does is rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic," Wolfe said. "...It doesn't make what was, in my opinion — and I think the opinion of many, many people — a very problematic bill any better."

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Video: House passes bill prohibiting 'divisive concepts' in school, government diversity training (KCCI Des Moines)

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What couldn't be taught under the bill

The Iowa bill defines 10 concepts that would be banned in mandatory trainings, including: 

  • That the U.S. or state of Iowa is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.
  • "That an individual, solely because of the individual's race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously." 
  • That anyone should "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress" because of their race or sex.
  • That meritocracy or traits like a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or "created by a particular race to oppress another race."

The bill would still allow a provider of diversity training to respond to questions on those topics and wouldn't prohibit discussions "as part of a larger course of academic instruction." 

1619 project? Ames Black Lives Matter week?

Democrats in the Senate last week said they fear the bill is meant to target school curricula including teaching based on the 1619 Project. The project is a series of essays published in The New York Times Magazine in 2019 that argue Black Americans are the foundation of democracy. 

They also said it takes aim at the Ames Community School District, which had a Black Lives Matter at School week in February. 

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Holt said in an interview with the Des Moines Register earlier this week that he believes the bill would certainly cover some of the activities at the Ames school district and perhaps other Iowa schools. 

Asked about the 1619 Project, he said any curriculum that includes the defined concepts could be used if concepts aren't taught as fact and opposing viewpoints are included.  Lawmakers proposed a measure banning teaching from the project, but that separate measure did not make it through a legislative deadline.

"If those specific concepts would be included in the 1619 Project, then those specific concepts cannot be taught, unless it's part of a larger discussion, or an answer to a question," he said. 

A number of groups oppose the bill, including the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Iowa State Education Association, One Iowa, Iowa Public Health Association, and Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. Two groups, the Family Leader and the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, support it. 

Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at irichardson@registermedia.com, at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Bill limiting concepts in government diversity training, school curriculum heads to Gov. Kim Reynolds

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