A bill that provides sexual assault awareness and prevention in schools advanced through an Iowa House subcommittee on Monday. Rep. Gary Mohr (R-Bettendorf), who authored the bill and chaired the subcommittee, said the bill seeks to teach children how to recognize unwanted physical and verbal sexual advances. It would apply throughout all grades, including Pre-K.
Catie Clobes opened up the subcommittee by testifying against the bill.
“It’s a disturbing overreach of the government,” Clobes said. “This should be a parent’s job. A Pre-K child can’t — I’m in opposition.”
Courtney Collier said she has concerns with the bill as well.
“I am undecided, but I think I’m in opposition because, from what I understand and I’m open to clarification, this bill would give the district the responsibility of educating down to the Pre-K level about sex abuse and what it looks like and how to deal with it,” she said. “As a mother to my three sons, I began speaking to my kids around age 2 about safe bodily contact, with whom and all of that. I just feel like I don’t want the school interfering or stepping on my toes.”
Collier suggested allowing parents to opt-in or out of this sort of education. She said she was contacted by the school district when her twins were in first grade and they were reading a book that covers a mature topic. She was asked whether or not she wanted her kids to participate.
Chaney Yeast of Blank Children’s Hospital spoke in favor of the bill. She said there has been a discussion surrounding the bill since 2001.
“There’s already some really fantastic child abuse awareness and prevention programs throughout the state that are working with the school to provide age-appropriate education,” Yeast said. “We actually know children under the age of six are at the highest risk for sexual abuse in our state. Giving very age-appropriate information to those children, and it’s typically coupled with appropriate information for the parents so they can reinforce that information at home, is critical.”
Yeast said the legislation does not call for additional dollars to be appropriated, but the goal can be achieved either way.
“Let’s move forward and actually make a difference for all kids in Iowa,” she said.
Rep. Ras Smith (D-Waterloo) wasn’t a member of the subcommittee, but he did ask Mohr why the bill was moving through Public Safety rather than Education.
“Where this came from, for me, a 13-year old girl in my neighborhood wrote me a letter,” Mohr said. “There had been some instances in school and she was aware of Erin’s Law. She was the one who kind of educated me. Thirty-seven other states have passed this. I’m not on the Education Committee, I am on Public Safety. It’s like many bills here, it can be assigned to many different committees.”
Mohr said he’s open to suggestions on the bill and willing to amend it if necessary with regards to the idea of opting in or out.
“It just seems to me that somehow we need to move this,” he said.
Mohr discussed a possible amendment addressing funding for the bill with Representatives Joel Fry (R-Osceola)and Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton).
All three members were open to amending the bill to allow for parents to either opt-in or opt-out. Yeast said her group’s program is an opt-out with an informational letter sent to parents ahead of time.
Melissa Peterson of the Iowa State Education Association, though, cautioned against allowing parents to opt-out.
“Difficult waters to navigate if a child who is a victim of child abuse or neglect or assault and someone opts you out,” Peterson said. “That’s where the difficulty comes.”
Peterson said she believes enough protections are in place to make sure the curriculum is age-appropriate.
The legislators supported the measure with an amendment addressing the funding but were not planning to offer parents an option to opt-in or out to that specific material.