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Free speech bill requires First Amendment training for educators

contributed photo The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 478 which requires First Amendment training for teachers and staff at Iowa public schools and universities.

Iowa public schools and colleges could face restrictions related to diversity training prohibiting certain “divisive concepts,” while requiring First Amendment training for teachers and staff.

The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 478 on Monday, which is now being considered by the Iowa House. Republican lawmakers in support of the bill say free speech rights of students, particularly conservative students, are at risk on college campuses.

An Iowa State University professor drew controversy last fall when they prohibited arguments opposing certain social issues, stating in their syllabus students could not, “choose any topic that takes at its base that one side doesn’t deserve the same basic human rights as you do (ie: no arguments against gay marriage, abortion, Black Lives Matter, etc).”

The new legislation, along with the requirement of First Amendment training, would have faculty face disciplinary action if it’s determined they restricted a student’s speech.

Certain “divisive concepts” would also be restricted from required diversity training or First Amendment training. Of the 10 prohibited concepts some include:

“That the state of Iowa is fundamentally 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 any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological stress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”

These topics would not be barred from discussion in the, “larger course of academic instruction,” but would be barred from any form of mandatory training.

Chancellor of Iowa Valley Community College (IVCCD) district Kristie Fisher said the district has been monitoring the bill, but doesn’t believe it will disrupt anything the district currently does.

“The basic premise of free speech has always been and always will be critical both Marshalltown Community College and Ellsworth Community College and at Iowa Valley in general,” Fisher said. “We’ve always encouraged free speech regardless of political ideology and we’ll continue to do that practice with or without this law.”

She said one of the core tenants of IVCCD is being bipartisan by nature, helping everyone regardless of political affiliation meet their education and workforce needs.

Fisher said she hasn’t seen or dealt with any suppression of conservative speech at IVCCD.

“We’ve had conversations where somebody said, ‘wait, I don’t want someone wearing that hat or that shirt,’ because it had a different political affiliation than what the person observing it might have had,” Fisher said. “But that’s when we use those moments as opportunities to talk about the fact we can have different political ideologies and different opinions, but still be respectful.”

One concern Fisher has with the legislation is the district will have to spend time and effort adapting to the new regulations. She believes the district is already complying with the standards set forth by the new legislation, but will face an additional burden of double-checking and documenting.

“I feel like we’re already fostering an environment for conversations and differing opinions, so it’s going to add a burden on making sure we’re complying with it,” Fisher said.

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Call Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or tbabcock@timesrepublican.com

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