Iowa book ban leads to disclaimers on Little Free Libraries

Iowa book ban leads to disclaimers on Little Free Libraries

Iowa schools take cautionary measures by adding disclaimers to Little Free Libraries amid controversial book law

by Suswati Basu
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In a response to Iowa’s recent contentious legislation banning certain books from schools, several school districts in the state are taking proactive measures to protect themselves. Reports from the Des Moines Register have highlighted how West Des Moines and Urbandale schools in Iowa are now placing disclaimers on their Little Free Libraries located on school grounds. This move aims to navigate the new law’s uncertain waters, which has left many educators and education advocates seeking clarity on its implications.

Debate and controversy surrounding House File 496

The legislation in question, House File 496, was signed into law earlier this year by Governor Kim Reynolds, and it has sent ripples of controversy throughout the state’s education system. The law effectively bans books that contain what it deems as “sex acts” from school libraries and requires parental permission for students who wish to use different names or pronouns than those assigned at birth. The broad scope of the law has left school districts in Iowa grappling with how to implement it effectively, given the lack of comprehensive guidance from the state.

“A school district shall not provide any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade six.”

House File 496

The response from school districts to HF 496 has been a mixed bag. Urbandale, for instance, has adopted a more proactive stance by removing 65 books from their libraries, while other districts have chosen not to remove any books thus far. To further clarify their position and distance themselves from potential legal ramifications, some schools have decided to place disclaimers on their little free libraries.

Disclaimers on Little Free Libraries as part of book bans in Iowa

One example is Urbandale’s Webster Elementary, where disclaimers now informs users that the little library is separate from their official library program and is not sponsored by the district in Iowa. West Des Moines is planning to follow suit by adding signage to its library at Clive Learning Academy.

However, not all school districts are taking this route. Des Moines schools, for instance, maintain a little library at McKinley Elementary but do not believe the new law applies to it.

The Little Free Library nonprofit organisation expressed disappointment that schools are feeling compelled to add disclaimers. Still, they acknowledge that it may be a pragmatic solution to ensure schools do not face penalties for non-compliance with the controversial law. Margret Aldrich, a spokesperson for Little Free Library, a nonprofit based in St. Paul, Minnesota, said it was “sad to see book banning in my home state of #Iowa where I first fell in love with reading” on X formerly known as Twitter.

On the other side of the debate, State Representative Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) has criticised districts like Urbandale for their response, accusing them of “playing a political game.” He finds it “unbelievable” that some districts are struggling to remove materials they deem sexually explicit.

Read: School book bans: alarming rise as Florida takes lead

The ongoing controversy surrounding House File 496 highlights the complexities and challenges of navigating contentious legislation within the education system. While some school districts opt for disclaimers as a protective measure, others are grappling with how best to balance the law’s requirements with the principles of free speech and academic freedom.

As Iowa’s educators continue to navigate these uncertain waters, the fate of certain books in their libraries and the boundaries of students’ access to diverse literature remain subjects of ongoing debate and legal interpretation.

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