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Newscast 1.31.24: Students return to Perry High School weeks after school shooting; Big day in Iowa Legislature concerning transgender civil protections, AEA changes

School bus
School bus

High school students in the Perry School District in Iowa returned to classes on Wednesday for the first time in almost a month, after a deadly shooting that killed a sixth-grade student and principal.

Last week, the Perry elementary and middle school students returned to classes. A message on the school website said “we continue the process to reclaim our school.”

There was an open house on Tuesday for high school students and parents to hear details on the return of classes. Counselors and therapy dogs are on hand for those who need support.

The school shooting on January 4 involved Dylan Butler, 17, a Perry student who shot people in the school, before dying from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Two high profile bills in the Iowa Legislature – a proposal by Governor Kim Reynolds to revamp the Area Education Agencies and a bill to reduce legal protections for transgender Iowans – got substantial airings in packed rooms on Wednesday.

One of those was killed, as a House Subcommittee on a 3-0 vote declined to advance the bill that would have removed transgender protections in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That bill had been introduced by Republican Representative Jeff Shipley.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa encouraged lawmakers to drop the proposal. Advocates for the trans community chanted "Trans rights are human rights," in the hallway as the subcommittee met.

Republican Representative John Wills, of Spirit Lake, was one of the three who voted against the bill.

Several transgender Iowans testified against the bill, saying they feared it would lead to being denied housing or bank loans.

In the other big legislature topic Wednesday, subcommittees in both the Iowa Senate and Iowa House held hearings on the possible AEA reworking, and drew several speakers. The proposal moved out of the Senate subcommittee on a 2-1 vote, while the House subcommittee said more time to decide was needed.

Many K-12 educators and others defended the longstanding functioning of the agencies to provide specialty services that many schools cannot provide without major extra spending.

Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow said the proposal will improve test scores and accountability.

Northwest Iowa Republican State Representative Skyler Wheeler said he and member Taylor Collins need to have more discussions before deciding whether to advance the governor’s proposal on overhauling the agencies. The Iowa Senate advanced Reynolds’ AEA bill out of a subcommittee, but made clear they want changes to the most recent amendment before moving it further.

Reynolds at the beginning of the session said she wanted state money to go to K-12 public school districts instead of to the nine regional agencies. The schools could then decide how to use the money to pay for services, whether that would be to their regional AEA or other service providers.

There has been much pushback on her proposal, including over the past weekend at a lot of legislative forums statewide.