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Senate File 496: the preliminary injunction

The state of Iowa is being sued in two court cases in response to Senate File 496, which resulted in a preliminary injunction that allows some requirements in the bill to no longer be enforceable in schools.
Addison Pirkl
Senate File 496 was first introduced Mar. 2, 2023, was passed through the Iowa Senate twenty days later, passed through the Iowa House on Apr. 4, 2023, and finally signed into law on May 26, 2023.

On Dec. 29, 2023, District Court Judge Stephen Locher hindered the state of Iowa from enforcing two parts of the expansive bill Senate File 496 (SF 496) in what’s called a preliminary injunction. The bill relates to students and staff statewide, and bans numerous topics from within schools. The implementation of this bill was later challenged in two separate lawsuits, GLBT Task Force v. Reynolds, and Penguin Random House v. Reynolds.

A preliminary injunction is defined as temporary relief that preserves the status quo until the courts decide on the merits of the case. This injunction has been a vast relief for the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), as SF 496 obstructs teachings of sexual orientation and gender identity to elementary students, removes books from library shelves and prohibits teachers and staff from calling students by any other name or pronouns that are not on their class roster without parental permission among other things (FastDemocracy). 

The preliminary injunction is the first of several rulings that are to follow, allowing certain portions of SF 496 to be non-enforceable during the lawsuits that remain in the courts.

Matt Degner, the superintendent for Liberty’s school district, ICCSD, sent out an email to all students, parents, and staff on Jan. 2, 2024, shortly after the ruling which stated, “Please know that we will not have long-term clarity on the impact of SF 496 until the lawsuit is completed. While we navigate the [newly issued] injunction, our primary focus remains on maintaining a safe, welcoming, and respectful space for every student”.

Initially, SF 496 prohibited the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation, defining it as “not age-appropriate” (SF 496 PDF) in grades kindergarten through sixth. With the preliminary injunction, schools are now allowed to teach about sexual orientation and gender identity in the youngest grades, which ICCSD has already implemented back into their elementary schools. 

While the injunction has been a step in the right direction for the LGBTQIA+ youth in Iowa, there are still many parts of the bill that restrict these students across the state, including a part of SF 496 that bans teachers from calling students by any other name/pronouns than what they are handed in their class roster. If the student wishes for that to change, the school would have to get parental permission.

“I am glad that there are some movements to get rid of a portion of the legislation that was passed last year (SF 496), but unfortunately, this only scratches the surface. 

Students will still be outed to their parents if they talk to a teacher about their identity,” said Arbor Soride, 11, who helps lead Liberty’s LGBTQIA+ club, PRISM.

The court denied any change regarding this section of the bill and it is still required in schools statewide. SF 496 is also coupled with several other anti-transgender bills, making it even harder for transgender youth to find solace in Iowan schools and society.

 “I am hoping that this bill is deemed unconstitutional and that the other homophobic and transphobic bills [in Iowa] are also challenged and removed, but it is hard to have faith in this happening… I despise that my community has to exist in these conditions while our rights are being taken out from under our feet,” said Soride.

Another restriction in the bill was the removal of books from school libraries that are also deemed “not age-appropriate”. Many books were reviewed, checked over and pulled from libraries. This also removes books from the English/Literature curriculum, making the process of choosing books to teach more tedious than before (SF 496 PDF). Yet, with the new ruling, these books are being returned to classrooms and libraries. 

Diane Brown, a teacher-librarian at Liberty, comments on the relief the injunction has brought stating, “…it’s been like we can breathe again. It’s like a weight lifted. [We] don’t have to look now at pulling books out and reading for one sentence or one word that puts it over.”

The effect that the injunction has had on Liberty and other schools within the district has shown through, despite the new changes. English teachers and librarians have started to teach about books that had previously been banned, and young students can learn about gender identity and sexual orientation in their classrooms once more. While the injunction is only in place until an actual ruling from the Iowa Court takes place, schools have already seen much change across the state. 

While these lawsuits continue, ICCSD ensures that keeping the community healthy and safe remains their first concern, no matter what the outcome of the court cases are. “Please rest assured that the well-being and inclusivity of our community continue to be our top priorities. We appreciate your ongoing support as we navigate these important matters together” stated Degner.

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About the Contributors
Addison Pirkl, Website Manager
This is Addison's second year on staff as a Website Manager, and she spends most of her time drawing, writing, and having her nose stuck in a book...
Vanessa Litton, Reporter
Vanessa Litton is a Junior at Liberty High school and this is her first year with the Liberty Live Wire. She is an environmental and civil rights activist who is always keeping up with the latest issues. Outside of school she enjoys, reading, writing, and listening to music.