The House passed two pieces of legislation Monday on free speech training in Iowa’s schools, including a controversial bill that would forbid certain “divisive concepts” from diversity training and curriculum.
The first bill, House File 744, requires the Board of Regents to develop free speech training for faculty members and any individuals with student oversight. If a faculty member “knowingly and intentionally” impedes a student’s right to free speech, the institution may discipline or fire that faculty member. The bill would also require universities to train students, faculty and staff on the First Amendment and would create a complaints process for K-12 students in Iowa.
“It’s not our job, it’s not educational institutions’ job to tell those kids what to think,” said Rep. Dustin Hite, R-Oskaloosa. “It’s to give them the tools to decide what to think.”
Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, a journalism professor at Drake University, said she believes in the importance of supporting conservative students in her classes, despite their political differences.
“I will stand up for the rights of conservative students in my classes every single day,” the Windsor Heights Democrat said.
The bill passed with a vote of 97-1. The bill will move back to the Senate, which passed a different version of the proposal on March 8.
The second bill, House File 802, faced more opposition. Four-and-a-half hours of opposition.
The bill defines “divisive concepts” that could not be taught in training or curriculum at Iowa’s schools or governmental agencies. The concepts include the ideas that an individual is unconsciously racist or sexist due to their race or sex or that the U.S. or Iowa are systemically racist or sexist. The language aligns closely with an executive order President Donald Trump signed in September 2020. President Joe Biden overturned the order in January.
Democrats argued the legislation would hinder meaningful history education at Iowa schools by preventing lessons on widespread, systemic racism in America.