By Attorneys Miriam Van Heukelem, Elizabeth Heffernan and Jazmine Polk
On March 22, 2023, Governor Reynolds signed Senate File 482, more commonly known as the “Bathroom Bill,” into law. This new law goes into effect immediately and includes a number of requirements and prohibitions pertaining to the use of bathrooms in schools by any person on the premises, including students, employees, parents, and visitors. This law is not intended to interfere with accommodating individuals with disabilities or young children who need physical assistance when using the restroom or changing area. It also does not prevent access to a restroom or changing area during a natural disaster, emergency, or when necessary to prevent a serious threat to student safety.
• The law applies to areas in which students “may be in various stages of undress,” either alone or in the presence of other persons. These include single occupancy and multiple occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, and facilities used for extracurricular activities or overnight accommodations, regardless of where they are located (“facilities”). This includes hotels for overnight trips, changing areas for show choir, or sports outside of school property.
• Schools shall require these facilities be designated only for and used by persons of the same biological sex and all individuals (including students, employees, parents, and visitors) are prohibited from entering applicable areas that do not correspond with that person’s biological sex.
• Any student who “desires greater privacy” may request alternative facilities with written consent from their parent or guardian. School officials must evaluate the request and offer reasonable options for alternative facilities to the extent reasonable. These requests need not be based on gender concerns, but can include religious, medical, or personal reasons.
• School officials may not offer as an accommodation access to a restroom or changing area designated for use by students of the opposite sex while students of the opposite sex are or may be present. Instead, accommodations may include (1) access to a single occupancy restroom or changing area, (2) access to a unisex, single occupancy restroom or changing area, or (3) controlled use of a faculty multiple or single occupancy restroom or changing area.
This law is effective upon enactment and includes an enforcement mechanism under which any citizen of the state of Iowa may file a complaint with the office of the Iowa Attorney General. The person filing the complaint must provide written notice to the school and allow the school three business days from receipt of the notice to cure the alleged violation. The Attorney General must investigate the complaint and may file a lawsuit against the school district for failure to comply with the provisions of the law.
We know this new law is a focus for school districts across the state of Iowa. If you have questions about how these changes might impact your school district, please reach out to your school attorney for assistance.
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Van Heukelem, Miriam