Heartstopper, The Color Purple and hundreds more books set for Iowa school ban 

On the left, the cover of Alice Oseman's graphic novel Heartstopper volume 1. On the right, Joe Locke and Kit Connor as Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson in Heartstopper season 2

Heartstopper and The Color Purple are among hundreds of book titles set to be banned in parts of Iowa. 

The Des Moines Register has revealed a list of 374 books that the Urbandale Community School District – which covers about 4,000 students – believe could violate Senate File 469.

In May, Republican governor Kim Reynolds announced she had signed several bills into law as part of “transformation education reform”, including SF 496, which took effect on 1 July. 

The legislation, which is similar to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, bans teachers from raising issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in class from kindergarten through to the sixth grade. 

It also requires teachers and administrators to review their school libraries and classrooms for books that depict sex acts, and prohibits the purchase of certain books in the future.

The bill redefines “age-appropriate” to state explicitly that schools cannot include any materials with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act. Penalties for a breach of the law will not take effect until the beginning of next year, The Des Moines Register reported.

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Following the bill being signed into law, schools in the district have been instructed to remove books that violate the law. 

‘Shocking and sickening to see the books on there’

Books that have been flagged for removal include LGBTQ+ favourites The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, and Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series, as well as books intended for children, such as I Love My Colorful Nails, by Alicia Acosta and Luis Amavisca.

Classic novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, and George Orwell’s 1984 also face being removed.

A spokeswoman for the school district, Dena Claire, said the proposed list of books facing a ban is supposed to provide guidance to K-12 teachers – those who work at all grades from kindergarten to grade 12.

When it came to drawing up the list, Claire said, the district looked at other states with similar laws, with the Iowa Department of Education having promised to issue guidance on how to implant the new law in the near future. 

Speaking about one of the books set to be banned – Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg, by Rob Sanders – school board member Dan Gutmann said it “is a picture book that details Buttigieg’s life, from his childhood in the Midwest to his run as the first openly gay man to seek the Democratic nomination for president”. 

Gutmann believes the law contributes to the silencing of the LGBTQ+ community. ”I was a child sitting in an elementary school at one point. I’m also the father of a student,” he said. “I take offence to the idea that my family is age-inappropriate. I find that incredibly offensive.”

Sara Hayden Parris, the founder of Annie’s Foundation, a group that opposes book removals, and whose children used to attend Urbandale schools, told The Des Moines Register: “I’m familiar enough with lists from other states that I wasn’t necessarily surprised. But it’s still shocking and sickening to see the books on there.”

A statement released by the district said: “We had to take a fairly broad interpretation of the law knowing that if our interpretation was too finite, teachers and administrators could be faced with disciplinary actions according to the new law.”