New challenge to law banning books that describe sex acts from Iowa schools

DES MOINES — The country’s largest book publisher, four authors and the state teachers union have filed a lawsuit challenging part of a new Iowa law that requires schools to remove books that describe or depict sex acts.

“Senate File 496 is a book ban, plain and simple,” Dan Novack, Vice President and Associated General Council for Penguin Random House said during an online news conference Thursday. “…It’s also created the paradox that under Iowa law a 16 year old student is old enough to consent to sex, but not old enough to read about it in school.”

Penguin Random House has filed a similar lawsuit against a Florida school district. “We are prepared for a drawn out battle to restore sanity in the way that we are approaching public education and literature,” Novack said.

Melinda Lo — author of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” — is part of the lawsuit. “In the two years since it won the National Book Award it has been banned, challenged or restricted in over 40 school districts and communities across the country, including six in Iowa,” Lo said. “…I am so grateful to have this opportunity to stand up for my readers and the First Amendment.”

Laurie Hulse Anderson is the author of SPEAK, a story about a 13 year old girl who struggles with the trauma of rape during her first year of high school. She is party to the lawsuit as well. “The families of Iowa have the right to supervise and choose what their own children are reading, of course,” Hulse Anderson said, “but no one group of parents or politicians has the right to limit the books available to other citizens.”

Iowa State Education Association president Mike Beranek, a retired third grade teacher, said Iowa educators are trained in what are age-appropriate materials for classrooms and library shelves. “This is an incredibly important issue not only for us here in Iowa, but for the country as a whole,” Beranek said.

Earlier this week Governor Kim Reynolds said “protecting children from pornography and sexually explicit content shouldn’t be controversial” and books with “graphic depictions of sex acts have absolutely no place in Iowa schools.”

There are now two lawsuits challenged new state education policies. A lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of a group of parents and students also addresses a part of the law banning instruction about sexual orientation in elementary classrooms.