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Changes to free speech policies at Iowa public schools, universities & community colleges heading to Gov. Reynolds’ desk

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL) -- The Iowa Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to change free speech policies at Iowa's K-12 public schools, community colleges and universities.

Senators made several amendments to the bill, which the House concurred on, sending the bill to Governor Reynolds for her signature.

House File 744 prohibits faculty and staff from violating students' First Amendment rights and allows for employees to be disciplined, including possible termination, if violations do occur. On top of that, Iowa's public community colleges and universities would be required to conduct annual free speech training for students, faculty and staff, which elected officials would be allowed to attend.

Language that would have prohibited officials at the three regent universities (University of Northern Iowa, University of Iowa & Iowa State University) from making public statements on political policy matters unless made in collaboration with the Board of Regents was removed from the bill.

That portion of the bill had been a heated topic of discussion during this legislative session after an incident last year within the University of Iowa's College of Dentistry. In that incident, College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen sent an email to students saying the college was strongly against an Executive Order signed by President Trump that banned workplace trainings for federal partners that included "race or sex stereotyping," and "scapegoating."

A student, Michael Brase, hit "reply all" to the email, disagreeing with the college. He was then called in for a disciplinary hearing, which was eventually canceled. The whole situation led to a swift response by Republican lawmakers; claiming the university was denying free speech to students and was unethically taking a partisan stance.

The bill also requires the Board of Regents develop materials ensuring university officials understand free speech policies and practices. The state's public universities and colleges also can't retaliate against a member of their campus community who files a free-speech complaint.

Trevor Oates

Executive Producer

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