Back-to-school season feels slightly different this year in Iowa: Some parents are reporting being asked to formally approve their children’s nicknames for use in class as part of Republican lawmakers’ ongoing war against LGBTQ+ topics in education.
The bizarre requests have come out of a cautious interpretation of a new, vaguely worded state law that purports to advance parental rights, which Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed in May.
The law, known as Senate File 496, includes a section barring teachers from using “a name or pronoun that is different than the name or pronoun assigned to the student in the school district’s registration forms or records” unless a parent has been notified and has approved the change.
Some schools have determined that this includes nicknames — at least for now, to be safe. Penalties for violating the law include disciplinary action against teachers and superintendents.
"Yes, hello, are these the parents of Kimberly Reynolds? We are required to tell you that your child has requested to use the gender neutral nickname of 'Kim.'" pic.twitter.com/7hoFskjZi7
— Senator Liz Bennett (@LizBennettIowa) August 25, 2023
Local news outlets are documenting baffled reactions from parents.
“My kid started school yesterday, and she came home and she was like, ‘Oh, this weird thing happened,’” West Des Moines parent Bethany Snyder told Iowa News Now last week. According to Snyder, a teacher kept calling one student “Gabriel,” even though he told her that his name was “Gabe.” The teacher told Gabe he needed to have his parents fill out a form, citing the law.
An Iowa blogger, Nick Covington, shared an image of the form he received from his kids’ school district on social media, refuting an Iowa lawmaker’s attempt to minimize the scope of the legislation. The form Covington shared included space to write alternate names the student may go by.
Not true. I had to fill this out for my kids here in their rural Story County district. It's happening all over the state because of a dumb, vague law you wrote that school districts are scrambling to comply with: pic.twitter.com/L4YzNuh3IE
— Nick Covington (@CovingtonEDU) August 28, 2023
Covington and Iowa state Sen. Liz Bennett (D) shared emails to parents that cite the law, saying specifically that it applies to students’ nicknames.
“Today, Joseph requested that he be called Joe in class. However, because that nickname was not provided in Infinite Campus, we need your permission in order to grant the request,” read the email Bennett tweeted. (Infinite Campus is an online platform that allows parents access to students’ classwork.)
The email Covington shared read, in part: “To maintain compliance with Iowa law, we ask that you please fill out this form for any student in your household that has a nickname that would be preferred over a legal name provided during registration.”
Republican state lawmakers who sponsored the bill say it was never meant to apply to nicknames.
However, educators across the country have reacted with similar caution in the face of other vaguely worded laws, such as in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill banning any discussion on gender identity or sexual orientation for certain grade levels. Critics say the lack of clarity is a feature, not a bug — meant to scare educatorsinto strict compliance.