Iowa Gov. Reynolds signs law to ban ‘divisive concepts’ in diversity training

National & World News

DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO-TV) — Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Tuesday that would ban “divisive topics” from being included in diversity and inclusion training for Iowa schools and government entities.

The Republican governor released the following statement about HF802 on Tuesday:

“Critical Race Theory is about labels and stereotypes, not education. It teaches kids that we should judge others based on race, gender or sexual identity, rather than the content of someone’s character,” said Gov. Reynolds. “I am proud to have worked with the legislature to promote learning, not discriminatory indoctrination.” 

Statement from Gov. Kim Reynolds about HF802 on June 8, 2021

The legislation defines “divisive topics” that would be banned from training in several ways, including:

  • That the U.S. or state of Iowa is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.
  • “That an individual, by virtue 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 a person, based on race or sex, “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
  • Meritocracy and “traits such as a hard work ethic” cannot be described as racist or sexist or that they “were created by a particular race to oppress another race.”

The law echoes an executive order former President Donald Trump issued to ban “divisive concepts” from federally funded diversity training. President Joe Biden reversed Trump’s executive order on his first day as president.

During debates during the legislative session on the then-bill, Republicans said the measure was partially in response to complaints they have heard from parents about “indoctrination” of their children in schools.

“Frankly the situations that we find arising in school after school — with parent after parent calling and texting and emailing me about what they view as indoctrination of their children in publicly funded institutions of K-12 and higher education — should shock us all,” Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said on April 28.

Several school districts in the metro, including the Johnston Community School District, have adopted diversity and inclusion officers to promote equity and cultural understanding. Most recently, Johnston’s newly appointed officer received backlash for social media posts expressing his opinions about race and some political matters. He was still confirmed by the school board.

Lya Williams, a parent with a child in the Johnston schools, is excited about the district’s new diversity officer, but said she worries this law will prevent important conversations from happening.

“It’s basically going to shut it down before we get started,” she said. “If you’re already knowing that you need diversity and inclusion, but then you come and say ‘you can’t talk about this, you can’t talk about that,’ how are you going to have the conversation?”

Those concerns were echoed by Democrats during the session. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said during an April debate that this bill would lead to a “chilling effect” that will ultimately result in districts being afraid to implement diversity training.

Williams, a Black woman, said so long as “uncomfortable conversations” about the history of racism and the experiences of Black people are ignored, these issues will persist.

“We all have to have uncomfortable conversations and just find out what’s best for us and how to move, but ultimately recognize that Black children do not have the opportunity to not experience this [racism] and white kids can simply learn about it. Learning something is a big difference that having to experience it.”

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