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  • Writer's pictureRobert Lusk

Another Culture Wars Case: Schools, Sex, and Gender

“Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man.”  Ignatius Loyola


Whether the saying is always true, children’s impressionability is one of the reasons liberals and conservatives focus so much attention on what happens in public schools.  Most recently, they have focused on sex or gender education.  In Iowa, a federal district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining parts of an Iowa law intended to restrict sex and gender education.  The cases are GLBT Youth in Iowa, et al. v Reynolds, et al., Case No. 23-00474 and Penguin Random House LLC, et al. v Robbins, Case No. 23-00478 (December 29, 2023).


The challenged legislation, Senate File 496, did three things: (1) it required the removal of books from school libraries containing descriptions or visual depictions of a “sex act,” very broadly defined;  (2) it prohibited school districts and school personnel from instructing students younger than seventh grade in “gender identity” or “sexual orientation,” again, very broadly defined; and, (3) it required school districts to notify parents if their children requested an accommodation to gender identity, such as asking to use different pronouns than those in registration records.


The Court entered a preliminary injunction temporarily enjoining the “book removal” aspect of the legislation.  The Court noted it was “incredibly broad and has resulted in the removal of hundreds of books from school libraries, including, among others, nonfiction history books, classic works of fiction, Pulitzer Prize winning contemporary novels, books that regularly appear on Advanced Placement exams, and … books designed to help students avoid being victimized by sexual assault.”


With respect to “gender identity” or “sexual orientation” instruction, the Court concluded the terms were so broadly defined the law would prohibit school districts and school personnel from any instruction “… recognizing that anyone is male or female or in [any] relationship of any sort.”  A fact that rendered this aspect of the legislation “void for vagueness,” in violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Finally, the Court held that none of the plaintiffs had standing to challenge that part of the law requiring school districts to notify parents of requested accommodations to gender identity.  The only party that had challenged this aspect of the law was GLBT Youth, all of whom were already “out” to their parents and who, thus, fell outside the law's effective scope.


Of course, these are not final decisions.  The Court may or may not grant a permanent injunction at the end of these cases.  Additionally, whichever way they pan out, there will undoubtedly be an appeal.  In the meantime, public funds and administrative attention will be directed to litigation rather than education.  This is, perhaps, the real sign of the times.

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