August 11, 2023

Nick Covington: Navigating parents’ rights in Iowa

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The rise of anti-trans rules for schools has produced some repressive requirements. For example…

On Aug. 1, I got an email from my kids’ school district announcing a new required form I needed to fill out in response to Senate File 496, part of the slate of so-called parents’ rights provisions that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed in May. The letter read in part:

“Recently passed legislation … requires that school districts receive written permission from parents and/or guardians regarding any request by a student to accommodate a gender identity, name or pronoun that is different from what was assigned to the student during the school registration process. This requirement also applies to all nicknames. (i.e. Sam instead of Samuel; Addy instead of Addison, etc.)”

As schools and districts struggle to respond to the wave of anti-LGBTQ laws controlling access to books, curriculum materials and apparently pronouns in Iowa public schools, I suspect many parents will receive similar communications in the lead up to the start of the school year. And they’ll be right to react with bewilderment that their Sams and Addys, who never had a problem with nicknames before, now require a mailed letter to be recognized as such.

While it’s a bizarre inconvenience for most parents, the toll will be especially dire for LGBTQ kids in transition or who have transitioned, especially those who may face a dual struggle at home and at school. Those who have gone by another name and pronouns for years may not even respond to what’s on the roster, but what used to be fixed by a quick, affirming conversation now becomes a source of anxiety and dread.

You can imagine what the response must be from Iowa students, thousands of whom walked out of schools across the state this past spring in protest of anti-trans education bills. As a classroom teacher, I never had an issue adjusting my roster each year for dozens of versions of Madi, Maddy, Maddie, and Madison; to those who no longer used the last name of one parent in a contentious separation; or those in transition who were still figuring out how to be themselves at school.

If “First, do no harm” is a principle in caring professions, Iowa elected officials are demanding adults cause harm to vulnerable kids in schools, and teachers have an obligation to resist policies whose purpose is to inflict cruelty. We know that using chosen names can literally be lifesaving for transgender kids, as being able to use chosen names is directly linked to a decrease in depression and suicide. As a basic human courtesy, it’s the bare minimum, costs us nothing, yet can mean everything.

And the same thing is happening in Florida. Look for further examples as this panic spreads.

Read the full op-ed here. 


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