Book publisher Penguin Random House has filed a lawsuit, along with a few popular authors, over Iowa’s education reform law. It’s not common for publishers to get involved directly with preventing book bans, but Iowa’s new laws and their impact on school districts caused Penguin Random House to take action. Here’s what makes the new education reform law questionable and why Penguin Random House decided to get involved with the lawsuit.
What Is the Iowa Education Reform Law?
Back in May 2023, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an education bill that changed how Iowa schools were allowed to discuss gender identity and sexuality. It limits discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-6. Teachers are prohibited from providing any instruction on the subject. This included any sort of surveys, programs, or questionnaires.
In grades K-12, school districts in Iowa must maintain a library that only includes age-appropriate materials that support student goals. Any books with sexual content had to be removed from the school libraries. Along with this, all the school districts must have an online list of every book within their library, including a request submission box so parents can request the removal of any books.
While many of these schools have book removal review committees to process parent requests, students themselves are not allowed to be on the committees and cannot advocate for the books they may want during the process.
Why Did Penguin Random House File a Lawsuit?
In November of 2023, Penguin Random House officially filed a lawsuit against the bill. Authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo, and Jodi Picoult all participated in filing the lawsuit. Similarly, parents and educators were a part of the group who filed for legal action in federal district court in the Southern District of Iowa.
Penguin Random House released a carousel post on Instagram detailing who is involved with the lawsuit and the reasoning behind it. Penguin Random House claims that the Iowa education bill violates the First Amendment right to the free expression of different viewpoints. With the education bill in Iowa, certain views are no longer allowed to be expressed in schools, and so it violates the First Amendment.
The overall response from commenters on social media pages is positive, although some worry that this will allow explicit material to exist in school environments. Penguin Random House discussed some of the further details of the ban on its website. This included some of the banned books, like John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club, and Jodi Picoult’s 19 Minutes. It’s a wide range of books that expand outside of what might just directly contain explicit material.
Since the lawsuit was just filed, no one quite knows what will happen yet. But Penguin Random House has made a strong case and has teamed up with the Iowa State Education Association to file the lawsuit. Penguin Random House has always been against banning books and has made many prior announcements and decisions to support books that were struggling against bans. Keep an eye on the social media platforms for Penguin Random House to see how the lawsuit goes.
Browse the books mentioned above and more on our Bookshop.org Banned Books bookshelf.