Little Village black and white logo
Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

The impact of a bill Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law on May 26, which has provisions banning certain books from schools and certain topics from being mentioned in K-6 classes, is beginning to be felt around the state. SF 496 requires schools to remove all books with “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act,” except for approved science or health class texts. It also prohibits “any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion or instruction” referencing sexual identity or gender orientation in primary schools.

During debate on the book-banning provision of SF 496, Republican lawmakers focused on LGBTQ-themed books, calling them everything from inappropriate to pornographic, but finally settled on the broad language regarding sex in books. The ban specifically targeting K-6 education is even broader, and essentially required teachers and schools to ignore the existence of LGBTQ people, and would require them to remove any books or other reading material that acknowleges LGBTQ people.

The Iowa Department of Education has not provided any guidance on how to implement the bans.

The broad language and lack of guidance is also common to similar book bans and anti-LGBTQ school bills in other states. Uncertainty prompts teachers and schools to implement bans and restrictions in the widest possible manner.

On Friday, the Storm Lake Times Pilot reported that Alta, Iowa, is preparing to end the agreement by which the small Buena Vista County city shares library space with the local school district.

According to the Times Pilot, the city’s “library board isn’t interested in removing material at the demand of the Iowa Department of Education.”

Alta is one of eight Iowa cities where the public library shares space with a school library. Alta Library Director Tirzah Price said in one of those other cities, the local school superintendent has interpreted SF 496 as just prohibiting students from checking out banned books that are part of the public library’s collection. But in Alta, the school board’s attorney interprets SF 496 as meaning school children can’t be in the same room as banned books, so all those books would have to be removed from the shared library space.

“We can’t remove every single adult book that could potentially have sex in it or be age-inappropriate for elementary school kids,” Price said. “We can’t really put up a wall in the middle of our library without sacrificing space we don’t have. We’ve tried really hard to make this work. I know the school wants to make this work.”

Just how far-reaching the new bans can be was also highlighted on Friday, when a list of 374 books the Urbandale Community School District has ordered removed from classrooms and school libraries was published.

Annie’s Foundation, a Johnston-based nonprofit formed last year to oppose book bans, obtained the list through an Open Records Act request.

The list not only contains the LGBTQ books Republican lawmakers were complaining about during the SF 496 debates, such as the award-winning memoir Gender Queer, but also literary classics like Ulysses, Catch 22 and Beloved, and standard school reading like 1984 and The Catcher in the Rye. Also to be removed are books aimed at early readers that just mention LGBTQ families as one of the many types of families in the world.

“As we have not received guidance yet from the Iowa Department of Education regarding implementation of SF496, we looked at other states that have passed similar laws in order to create the list of books,” Urbandale schools communications coordinator Dena Claire told Iowa Public Radio. “UCSD will continue to comply with the law and timeline as written.”

Schools have until January to remove books and other materials prohibited by SF 496, before facing possible disciplinary action for violating the law. The Iowa Department of Education has not said when, or if, it will provide detailed guidance to schools on how they can comply with the new law.

This story originally appeared in LV Daily, Little Village’s Monday-Friday email newsletter. Sign up to have it delivered for free to your inbox.