The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

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Lili Moessner
Lili Moessner
Yearbook Editor

Students and Teachers React to Injunction Against Book Ban Law

Librarian+Jenahlee+Chamberlain+returns+books+to+City+High+shelves+after+injunction+on+book+bans
Tai Caputo
Librarian Jenahlee Chamberlain returns books to City High shelves after injunction on book bans

On December 29, 2023, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher filed an injunction against the book-banning portion of Senate File 496 just before the law was set to fully go into effect in all Iowa public school districts on January 1, 2024. 

The book banning section from Senate File 496, blocked by Judge Locher’s injunction, declared that any books “depicting or describing sexual acts” were to be removed from all school libraries. Another section blocked by the injunction prohibited any curriculum, instruction, or discussion related to gender and sexual identity in elementary schools. The injunction came after two lawsuits filed by Penguin Random House and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Many students at City High supported Judge Locher’s decision. Reyna Roach ‘24, a student rights advocate, celebrated the news. 

“[The] injunction takes a huge weight off our backs,” Roach said. “While the courts are deciding the legality of the bills, we, as students, will not continue to suffer.” 

Judge Locher wrote in a statement that Senate File 496 is “wildly overbroad” and that “the Court has been unable to locate a single case upholding the constitutionality of a school library restriction even remotely similar to Senate File 496.” 

On January 5, District Superintendent Matt Degner informed all students, families, and staff in an email that the district would “pause any work related to curtailing the books available in our libraries or classrooms” and “return books that have been removed from library shelves.” 

Beginning on the first day that students returned from winter break, they were able to check out any of the formerly banned books from the library. English Language Arts teacher Alina Borger-Germann was pleased with this development.

“I’m so relieved. Books back on the shelves! Kids getting to read! It’s so wonderful. For me, this is a decisive victory for books, and reading, and intellectual freedom,” Borger-Germann said.

I think I can speak for all the librarians in this district, and probably most of them in Iowa, that none of us agree with [Senate File 496].

— Jenahlee Chamberlain

Of those who disagreed with Senate File 496, many criticized its vague phraseology and lack of specific guidance for school districts. Senate File 496 did not provide an official list of banned books, so in order to clarify which books were to be prohibited, the ICCSD published its own list of 68 books in October. Librarians were still in the process of revising and adding books to the list when Judge Locher blocked the law in December.

City High librarian Jenahlee Chamberlain expressed hope that Senate File 496 will remain permanently blocked in future court cases.

“I think I can speak for all the librarians in this district, and probably most of them in Iowa, that none of us agree with [Senate File 496],” Chamberlain said.

Certain provisions of the law were not included in the injunction, including a section about gender identity that prohibited students from requesting to change their name or pronoun if it was not already on Infinite Campus, the platform that schools in the ICCSD use for organizing schedules, attendance, and grades. Staff members are required to report any student requests to the administration, which then in turn reports to parents.

One supporter of Senate File 496’s initial approval was Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that advocates for “parental rights.”

Adam Zabner, the Iowa State Representative of Johnson County and the Iowa House District 90, voted against the bill when it was first proposed in May. 

“I think [Senate File 496] went way too far,” Zabner said. “It was a small minority of parents, groups like Moms for Liberty, going in and telling other parents what their kids can and can’t read in school. I think that’s wrong.”

Since Senate File 496 was the first statewide book-banning law in Iowa, discussions surrounding what high school students should and shouldn’t be allowed to read have augmented in intensity.

Representative Zabner, who graduated from City High in 2017, supported the idea that students should be allowed to read banned books. 

“I read a lot of the books in high school that I’ve seen in lists that have been banned in other communities,” Zabner said. “Some of those books are very challenging and deal with difficult subjects, but reading them was formative for me. I think high school students deserve to be challenged, especially now, when students are barraged with all kinds of things online and on social media, [which maybe aren’t] as carefully thought out as what goes into a book.”

Because of the lack of clarity surrounding which books were supposed to be removed, critics argue that the law disproportionately targets LGBTQ+ authors and authors of color. 41% of the books that have been banned in the U.S. contain LGBTQ+ characters or themes

The Iowa Legislature has since appealed the block, and the ultimate fate of Senate File 496 has not yet been determined.

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About the Contributor
Tai Caputo, Feature and Opinion Co-Editor
Tai has been to public schools in three different countries. She enjoys eating spicy foods.
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