Archives for category: Iowa

Pieper Lewis was 15 when she ran away from the home of her adopted mother. She slept in the lobby of an apartment building. She was befriended by a man who then gave her to other men in exchange for drugs or money. One man raped her repeatedly. In a fit of rage, she stabbed him repeatedly and killed him in 2020. After more than two years in detention, she came before a judge who gave her five years of probation, instead of 20 years in prison. He also required this homeless teen to pay $150,000 to the rapist’s family in accordance with Iowa law.

One of Pieper’s high school teachers stepped in to help her by creating a GoFundMe to pay her debt. Leland Schipper, her former math teacher, hoped to raise $150,000, enough to pay what she owed plus some money to help her get a fresh start. He has so far raised over $400,000 so that the child will be able to go to college or start a business. She said in a statement that she wants to help other girls like her who were victims of sex trafficking.

This was Pieper Lewis’ statement at her sentencing hearing.

Thank you to Leland Schipper for giving this young woman, this child, a chance to start over.

Quite a story.

High school students in several districts in Iowa have staged walkouts to protest legislation that affects their education. Students want their teachers to have the freedom to teach, and they want the freedom to learn. Iowa legislators don’t want either.

In light of recent education bills at the Iowa Legislature, whether it’s promoting vouchers for private schools or restricting what teachers are allowed to mention in class, many Iowa students are getting fed up. And they’re standing up.

Friday afternoon in Johnston, a group of close to 100 students walked out of class and stood on school grounds to talk about those bills, explain how they’re impacting Iowa students and teachers, and encourage their peers to register to vote and to elect different legislators.

“I think the biggest thing now is putting people in positions of power that actually will do the work and will care and represent the student voices that are speaking out about this,” said Waverly Zhao, a junior at Johnston High School who helped lead the walkout.

The walkout was organized by students and two student organizations, Johnston Community of Racial Equity (CORE) Club and Iowa WTF.

And Johnston was only one of several with recent walkouts. Thursday, students walked out at Ankeny and other events have been planned for public and private high schools in Ames, West Des Moines, Des Moines, and possibly Waukee. All are organized by student groups, and generally around the same issue of not having their voices heard about their educations. Students have also held walkouts in recent months in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.

Specifically, students are calling out House File 2577, the bill that requires teachers to post every single piece of classroom material online, and Senate File 2369, the bill which allows vouchers for private schools and includes a parents’ bill of rights. Both have only passed in their chambers.

Students are also calling out House File 802, the law that prohibits so-called “divisive concepts” being taught in school, which passed last year…

HF 802 prohibited teachers from teaching “divisive concepts” and targets ideas such as systemic or institutionalized racism and sexism, and how those have shaped the way the country was built and how it functions now. Students say they’ve already seen it cause a chilling effect in their classrooms.

“As a student of color, it’s been hard enough in the district, and with the recent legislation, it’s harder to discuss racism and harder for us to combat that in schools,” said Anita Danakar, a Johnston high schooler.

For example, she said her history teacher made sure to tell students they weren’t trying to make student feel guilty when they talked about redlining in class.

Zhao said in her history and social studies classes teachers are talking less about racism and sexism so they don’t cross any lines. A history lesson she had about the 3/5ths compromise in the Constitution left most of the class confused, Zhao said, because the teacher was never quite able to explain why it existed….

Overall, the students said they want to learn about these topics in school, from a trusted source and in an environment where they can ask questions.

“This entire attitude that [says] these students are not mature enough to learn and have mature conversations in the classroom about race, gender, sexuality, to say we can’t even talk about that in an educational environment is disgusting,” said Nicholas Arick, a 17-year-old student who plans to vote in the next presidential election. “It’s saying these students don’t deserve to learn about these things, and eventually when they get out of high school, they’re be ignorant and they won’t know what they’re voting for.”

Based on an appeal by parents of students with disabilities, a Federal Appeals Court supported mask mandates in school.

Federal Appeals Court Decision Ensures Iowa Schools Can Require Masking to Protect Students with Disabilities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Eva Lopez, ACLU, elopez@aclu.org

Veronica Fowler, ACLU of Iowa, veronica.fowler@aclu-ia.org, cell: 515-451-1777

DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires schools to impose universal masking rules where necessary to ensure students with disabilities have access to public school education.

The decision comes in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, The Arc of the United States, Arnold & Porter, and Duff Law Firm, P.L.C. on behalf of The Arc of Iowa and 11 parents of children with disabilities. The Eighth Circuit held that the clients are entitled to a preliminary injunction to ensure that the defendant school districts in Iowa are providing for universal masking as a reasonable accommodation so that students with disabilities can go to school safely.

“The Eighth Circuit affirmed what we’ve known to be true from the start: School mask mandate bans are discriminatory and illegal,” said Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “To be able to attend schools safely, many students with disabilities need their schools to require masks. At a time when COVID-19 is ravaging our communities once again, this decision ensures that schools can continue to take basic public health precautions like requiring universal masking to protect their students.”

A federal district court in September enjoined the state from barring mask mandates, recognizing that “forcing children to bear the brunt of societal discord is ‘illogical and unjust.’” The state then appealed that decision, resulting in today’s ruling.

“Today’s decision is an important victory for the civil rights of children with disabilities in Iowa, who have a right to go to school with their peers,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa. “No parent should have to choose between their child’s health and safety and their education, but that is the terrible position that the state put our clients in. It’s important to note that the court’s reasoning also means that even schools that are not named in the lawsuit should be requiring masks when needed to accommodate students with disabilities so they can go to school with their peers. This decision is a huge relief to families across our state.”

The groups are arguing in the lawsuit that federal civil rights laws require schools to be able to require universal masking to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their public education.

The following are additional comments from:

Shira Wakschlag, senior director, legal advocacy and general counsel at The Arc of the United States:

“In the midst of yet another COVID-19 surge, the court is making it clear that students with disabilities have the right to go to school safely during this pandemic. The Arc will continue fighting to ensure that students with disabilities in Iowa and nationwide are able to attend their neighborhood schools alongside their peers without putting their health and their lives at risk.”

Catherine E. Johnson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa:

“I welcome today’s ruling that universal masking as an accommodation is both reasonable and necessary for students with disabilities to attend school in-person safely during the ongoing pandemic. This ruling comes during a time when Iowa is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the state. We are hopeful this opinion provides relief, confidence and clarity for parents, students, and schools to work collaboratively to restore our students’ long established civil rights under federal law and safely return our students with disabilities to their schools.”

This release is available online here:https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/federal-appeals-court-decision-ensures-iowa-schools-can-require-masking-protect

Alternet recapitulates a Boston Globe investigation of a new phenomen: drivers who use their car as a weapon to drive into protestors.

Three Republican-led states have passed laws to protect the drivers who ran into protestors: Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida.

On Monday, the Boston Globe reported on a “Back the Blue Act” signed by Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds. The bill took the side of drivers who run over protesters. In June of 2020, the driver of Reynold’s state-issued Chevrolet Suburban struck a Des Moines Black Liberation Movement protester who was urging the governor to restore voting rights.

Thirteen other states are considering “hit and kill” legislation.

You can read the Boston Globe investigation here, but be advised that it is probably behind a pay wall.

The school board of Waukee, Iowa, planned to mandate masks, but then a campaign started in the community against the mandate. Faced with threats to “make the district pay” by withdrawing students, the board voted down the mask mandate. The only dissenting vote was a physician. The anti-maskers prefer to expose their children to a highly contagious and deadly disease.

Darcie Cimarusti, communications director for the Network for Public Education, reports on the assault on public school funding in Iowa. K12 Inc., the for-profit virtual charter chain, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is noted for high attrition rates, low graduation rates, low test scores, and high profits. Its top executives are each paid millions of dollars.

In multiple states across the country omnibus schools choice bills with sweeping charter and voucher provisions have been introduced. NPE Action has been following these bills here. Just such a bill was introduced in Iowa, SSB 1065 which would modify the state’s existing charter school law, which requires the approval of a local school board, to allow charter applicants to apply directly to the state board for a charter with no local approval required. Lobbying disclosures show that K12 Inc., which recently rebranded as Stride, Inc., has lobbied in favor of the bill

Should the Iowa legislature send this bill to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk, no doubt K12’s lobbying efforts will intensify. Currently K12 operates 51 online charter schools in 20 states. 

Iowa may be next.

Randall Balmer is one of Iowa’s most accomplished sons. After growing up in Iowa and attending its public schools, he went on to success as a historian, author, and professor, now at Dartmouth College. In addition to writing award-winning books about religion, he wrote a biography of President Jimmy Carter and won an Emmy for a three-part PBS series on the Evangelical church.

He wrote a compelling editorial warning Iowans against the Republicans’ plans to introduce a sweeping choice plan, which will divert students and funding from community public schools. He called school choice a “mirage.”

He began with plain truths:

As a graduate of Iowa public schools, I was saddened to read about the governor’s “school choice” proposal. Public education is one of our nation’s best ideas, and the persistent attempts on the part of politicians to undermine it with the misleading rhetoric of “choice” represents a real threat to the future of democracy.

Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed legislation to take money away from Ohio public schools and divert it to privately managed schools, vouchers for religious schools, charter schools, and home schooling. She is following in the footsteps of Betsy DeVos, who spent four years trying to eradicate public schools.

If you live in Iowa, contact your legislator and Governor Reynolds! Speak up for your public schools! Resist the privatization of public funds!

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds proposed SSB 1065, (now known as SF 159) which is being fast-tracked through the state Senate.  The vote may be today. This “school choice” bill would:

  • Provide up to $5,200 per student in “state scholarships” for parents to use for private school tuition or homeschooling expenses. 
  • Greatly expand charter schools in the state by allowing applicants to start a charter school by going straight to the state board, bypassing the school district.  No longer would districts be the only decider for charter schools. 

If you love your public schools, you need to drop what you are doing and get to work!

1. Call your state senators NOW and ask them to support public schools by OPPOSING Senate File 159, SSB 1065. Or say, “I oppose the school choice voucher/charter bill.” You can find your Senator and their phone number by going here. Click on their name for their phone number.

2Click here and send an email in opposition to SSB 1065/SF 159  NOW.

3. Share this link with friends and family who live in the state

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/save-iowa-public-schools-oppose/

Don’t wait. Act now. 

Carol Burris

Executive Director

Network for Public Education

Iowa has one of the best school systems in the nation, but legislators are working to pass a voucher program.

They very likely belong to ALEC, where they got their marching orders to destroy public education.

The bill advanced on a party line vote, with Democrats opposed. Every student who gets a voucher will take $5,000 away from the state’s public school. That amount will not be enough for a high quality private school.

In recent studies, done by scholars of different views, vouchers depress student achievement. Do Iowa legislators know that? Do they care?

The sponsor admitted that his plan would reduce funding for public schools:

“Yeah, it’s going to take a student away and that funding will go away (for public schools),” he said. “But that’s no different than a student leaving for any other reason. So schools have to deal with that all the time – declining enrollment or enrollment changing.”

Citizens of Iowa must rise up and say no. No to vouchers! No to additional “flexibility” to charter schools! No to budget cuts for public schools.

It is so rare to find a mainstream newspaper that supports public schools and opposes privatization, that it is worth paying attention when you see one. Our reader Chiara sent this one in. If you see one in your city or state, send it in. Iowa has long been renowned for its excellent public schools. Community support is a big part of that excellence. Thank you, Des Moines Register!

The editorial begins like this:

Let’s just call the “school choice” movement what it really is: an effort to funnel taxpayer dollars from public schools to vouchers, private schools and home schools. Supporters seem to believe Iowa children are being held hostage in collapsing government education institutions. 

“If there’s a public school that’s failing, we have a responsibility to those children that we give them the best opportunity possible,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa.

Actually, if schools are failing, the Iowa Legislature has a responsibility to help fix them, which includes adequately funding them. Despite the rhetoric of Chelgren and other school-choice advocates, Iowa parents have numerous choices in educating their children.

That is exactly right. When a school has low test scores, help it. Support the kids and the teachers. Don’t kill public education by betting on vouchers (a proven failure) and charters (privately run schools that typically do no better than the public schools they replace).