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Under the Covers - Sexually Explicit Books in Iowa Public Schools and the ALA

Updated: Mar 12

WARNING: Links to the books in this post contain content that we DO NOT deem appropriate for children. Even though these books are in many Iowa public school libraries and classrooms, it is illegal to show graphic and obscene material to a minor. Schools are currently exempt from this. Please do not open the links to the books (that are currently allowed in our schools) if a minor is present. - Iowans 4 Freedom

LOOK BOOK - See what books are currently available in Iowa Schools. Books that the ALA are championing and the IDOE will do nothing about. But be prepared. It's shocking.

Iowans have been raising concerns regarding sexually explicit, obscene, and vulgar content that is available to students in public school libraries, in the classroom, and curriculum. These concerns have been met with strong opposition and anyone asking questions or challenging the books have been called various names and labelled as book banners. This is simply not true. What parents expect is that sexually explicit, obscene, and vulgar materials not be available to children in public schools. This post will cover the following topics:

  • Are these books really in Iowa schools?;

  • West Des Moines, the Iowa Department of Education, and the book Gender Queer;

  • How did this happen? The influence of the American Library Association (ALA).


YES, there are many sexually explicit, obscene, and/or vulgar books in Iowa schools. Using the website, parents researched books mainly rated 5's (Aberrant Content) and 4's (Adult content - no minors under 18) based on a content-based rating system. A total of 95 titles were researched using the on-line library catalog at a sampling of 51 Iowa schools (mostly high schools). The catalogs were searched to see if those books were in the school.

A LookBook report packet was created with the findings. The booklet contains QR codes and links that will take you to the detailed report summary for the respective book title. This report is a snap-shot in time and is not an all-inclusive list of books of content with concerns. As parents are made aware of books and reviews are done, the list continues to grow.

Books titles searched include: Gender Queer, Sold, A Court of Mist and Fury, Tricks, Triangles, Damsel, Red Hood, Lucky, Push, and A Sun and Her Flowers to name a few.

THE GOAL of the packet is to:

  • To provide a sampling of books found in libraries across the state of Iowa to demonstrate it is not an issue isolated to the bigger metro area school districts.

  • Highlight and allow you to see the sexually explicit/obscene content our children are exposed to. **WARNING - The LookBook Packet file contains graphic images and excerpts**

What became clear in doing this research is that these books are in libraries all across Iowa and it is not an issue isolated to the larger districts. It is also evident there are no standards regarding content that is acceptable to be in public schools. Some of the books are used as part of curriculum in schools. As parents became aware of the startling content in the books, they reached out to their schools and districts only to find out the schools doubled-down on the need for books with sexually explicit content to remain in the schools with unrestricted access.

Parents have been challenging books and submitting reconsideration forms as mandated by their district board policies.

Hear about the Authors experience in this informative interview.

The following books were challenged with the resulting decisions to retain the books in the schools. Also, all of the districts listed below (like many districts in Iowa) REQUIRE two students sit on a review committee to evaluate the books.

  • West Des Moines: Gender Queer (appealed through the Iowa Department of Education) Currently in reconsideration process: Push, Not that Bad, Milk and Honey, Gender Queer, Tricks, All Boys Aren’t Blue

  • Carlisle: Gender Queer

  • Carroll: Sold, Red Hood, Damsel, Crank, The Haters

  • Ankeny: All Boys Aren’t Blue

  • Johnston: The Hate U Give, Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian – curriculum concerns

  • Indianola: Beyond Magenta and Looking for Alaska

  • Urbandale: Gender Queer, All Boys Aren’t Blue, Lawn Boy (challenged through the Superintendent level of the process)

It is worth noting on the book reconsideration process; the options for a decision on the books could include:

  1. Retain the book in the library - unrestricted access

  2. Retain the book in the library - restricted access

  3. Remove the book

Of the books challenged, the committees would not even consider putting restrictions on the books as an option, (i.e. age restriction or parental consent to check out.)

No committee ruled to put restrictions on the books.

When a book has made it's way through the book reconsideration process at the district level, the next step in the process is the option to appeal to the Iowa Department of Education. Gender Queer went through the appeal process through the Iowa Department of Education for the Board Decision in West Des Moines.

From Homeschool Mom to House Representative: Hear what our legislators are working on with Helena Hayes. Protecting Iowa's Children.


When the West Des Moines School board voted 6-1 to retain Gender Queer in the Valley Southwoods 9th grade school with unrestricted access, the decision was appealed

to the Iowa Department of Education. Ultimately, the Iowa Department of Education would not make a decision on the book Gender Queer because of a jurisdiction issue. (Recap of the August 4, 2022 Board of Education meeting.) They ruled because the student of the parent who filed the appeal didn't attend Valley Southwoods at that time, they did not have jurisdiction to provide a ruling. A comment made by John Robbins, President of the Iowa Department of Education Board, presents as if the Board of Education does not want to weigh-in on a policy or set standards for sexually explicit books. If not the Iowa Department of Education, then who?

“I would also contend that the board is treading on thin ice to say we have jurisdiction,” Robbins said. “I’m not arguing the merits of the case as far as whether that book should be on the shelves or not on the shelves — I’m just thinking if the board decides we have jurisdiction in this case, uh, we’ve become a book review for the state of Iowa — if that’s where we want to be.”

What was not reported was when school started later that month the book Gender Queer was actually accessible to students in the classroom of a language arts instructor at Valley High School where the student currently attends. There is no way for a parent to have knowledge that the book is available without going to the classroom, this would not be reflected in the on-line library catalog.

Aren't there specific criteria for a book to be allowed into the school and/or school library? For West Des Moines, this question was answered on June 8. 2022. As part of the appeal process with the Iowa Department of Education, a preliminary hearing was held on June 8, 2022 with the West Des Moines School District and the Iowa Department Education. In this hearing the question was asked of the West Des Moines Superintendent.

Iowa - West Des Moines Superintendent: As part of the line of questioning at the June 8th hearing, the West Des Moines Superintendent was asked to provide an example of a book that would not be allowed in the school library. She could not think of one. The lawyer, Alan Ostergren, then proceeded to provide an example and asked if it would be allowed in the library:

Lawyer: “Categorically would you consider a book that had photographs of naked adults in sexual situations be inappropriate in any school library."

Superintendent: “So I believe that if we had a book that someone had a concern about, we would follow policy 605.05 and determine if that book should be allowed in the library."

As a follow-up to clarify the lawyer asked “So the answer to my question is no it’s not categorically inappropriate, you would have to look at the book and make a decision through your process, is that right ?"

Superintendent: "We would use the policy and follow the policy to make the decision, yes."

This statement demonstrates any book is allowable in the library UNTIL someone raises a concern. There are NO objective standards or criteria for materials to be available in the libraries specifically when it come to sexually explicit, obscene, or vulgar content.

There are NO objective standards or criteria for materials to be made available in the libraries specifically when it come to sexually explicit, obscene, or vulgar content.

A Superintendents Perspective: Iowa vs. Oklahoma

Contrast the response from West Des Moines and the Iowa Department of Education with to the Superintendent of Public Education in Oklahoma who spoke out this week.

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Education Ryan Walters posted a video tweet stating:

"Oklahoma will not allow inappropriate materials in our schools whether that's book or whether that's instruction...All of our materials in our schools will be age appropriate...Our kids need to be focused on education. When parents send their kids to school, they need to know there is not inappropriate materials in a library or in the classroom."

As Ryan Walters mentions in his tweet, parents need to know when they send their kids to school they will not be exposed to inappropriate material. This is the heart of the issue for many parents - the broken trust. Parents were naively under the impression there were minimum standards for materials in the classrooms and libraries, for example content following basic guidelines similar to movie ratings - PG or PG 13 content. What was even more troubling as parents began to raise concerns with the schools, who then directed them to follow the 'Reconsideration Process', schools and school boards doubled down on why these books must remain in schools. Other states are seeing success and IOWA could see successes if reforms were implemented. As stated by Alan Ostergren in the August 4th Iowa Department of Education Board meeting;

"...if reform doesn’t come from within the public school infrastructure, it’s going to come without it. And you’re probably not going to like what that reform looks like. But you’ve lost almost every chance you have to show that you can fix yourself. Nobody has taken responsibility in the West Des Moines schools for an actual objective reason why this kind of stuff needs to be in a school library. Nobody.”


Email your legislators and let them know reform is needed.

  • Clear objectives and standards for materials allowed in public schools. This criteria should be used when evaluating books to be placed in the school library and as part of the review process, specifically for sexually explicit, obscene, and vulgar materials. Ideally a rating system, similar to ratings on movies, TV programs, and video games.

    • Standards should apply to physical books, eBooks, and audiobooks.

    • Apply to library materials and materials in the classroom

  • Iowa Code 728.5.1 and Iowa Code 728.7 needs to be amended as it provides an obscenity exemption for education. This is often cited by districts in the appeal process.

  • Books should have the same protections as school issued devices (Chromebook/iPad) which restrict access to content. The Security software used in some school districts by default blocks the following categories: Pornography, Drugs, and Other Adult content. These protections should apply to content in books.

  • Parental notification when materials are checked out. Again, similar to the Security software an email notification is sent listing the sites the students has visited on the device. In this technological age, this should not be difficult to accomplish. NOTE: This enhancement was to be implemented by the Follett company, the on-line catalog many districts in Iowa utilize, but the enhancement was halted because of feedback by librarians and the American Library Association referenced in the article, "Swift Feedback from Librarians Influences Follett Library Services Proposed Parental Control Module"

  • Remove students from the review committee on challenges when a book is submitted for reconsideration because of sexually explicit, obscene, and vulgar material. (Many district in Iowa REQUIRE students to be on the review committee).

  • Remove American Library Association and their standards from our public schools.


American Library Association

The American Library Association is the self-appointed expert in literature and books, including books in our schools. So when your schoolboards say "experts" this is who they mean and they have become a political organization. If you have not recently looked into the ALA, you may be surprised to find out their agenda. An entire blog post could focus on just the ALA, but below are a few main points to demonstrate why the ALA no longer should connected to our public schools.

The ALA should no longer be connected to our public schools.

The moment a parent raises a question or challenges a book, there are MANY resources ready and willing to help combat the challenge. An article published in the School Library Journal outlines Martha Hickson, a school librarian, and her journey of a book challenge.

"While the board meeting was still underway, I alerted the American Library Association (ALA), the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, all of which offer online reporting tools. I reached out to my union for support and guidance. Using an advocacy alliance tool that I had developed during the Fun Home struggle, I connected with colleagues, parents, community members, clubs, and LGBTQ-rights, library, and other intellectual-freedom groups."

The ALA formed a coalition called Unite Against Book Bans with several 'partner' organization; they are well-funded and highly organized. This is the battle anyone who raises concerns or submits a reconsideration request is up against. It is essentially David vs. Goliath. Listen to this clip from an ALA training in Texas for librarians on how to evade parents by only using personal devices so communications about the books can not be discovered by a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA). See video: How the ALA Puts the "Lie" in Librarian With Dan Kleinman - 12 minutes into the video)

The American Library Association and their beliefs are in opposition to the voice and authority of parents. They are actively working to forward a political agenda.

The ALA:

  • Sponsors and promotes Banned Books Week annually

  • Opposes parental controls and transparency libraries

  • Believes it is their duty to determine what materials your children should read. The Library Bill of Rights believes there should be NO age restrictions on books, they contend it would be a form of age discrimination.

  • Recently elected a self-proclaimed Marxist to lead the organization.

In the instance of Gender Queer the author stated in an interview Kobabe said the intent was not to write the book for young people but they gained a following with the help of the ALA - who also gave the book and Alex Award, an award for a book "written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18.

From Homeschool Mom to House Representative: Hear what our legislators are working on with Helena Hayes. Protecting Iowa's Children.

The ALA no longer supports parents rights and are actively pushing agendas in our schools. Our tax-payer dollars are funding this agenda. It may be hard to believe, but look no further than their own words - the "words of warning from librarians":

"...librarians of the world have a message for would-be book banners: beware. We're expecting you and we're not afraid. Though we may or may not actually be sweater-wearing cat people, one thing is for certain - you are underestimating us and our collective power. Invisible to the untrained eye, our work is like the hidden rings beneath a tree's outer bark. We leave a legacy through what we curate, collect, and preserve in our vast, interconnected archives. We quietly weigh and estimate what future generation will need to know about the present. We listen to our users, make informed choices, collaborate in our collection and preservation efforts, and, of course, we organize information so that it's easily found or hiding in plain sight, whichever best serves our historical moment."
"If you come for our public and school libraries, know this: We will push back and, if necessary, move content not only into secret caches and private collections but also into the dark corners of the Internet, far from your censor’s influence."

Again, NO ONE is asking for books to be BANNED; what we are asking is the focus to be on age-appropriate content and that books with sexually explicit, obscene, and vulgar content NOT be available to children in public school.


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