Jun 11, 2021

Axios Des Moines

It's Friday.

  • Still hot but less humid this weekend.

📣 Situational awareness: U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, is also questioning why Iowa officials weren't notified about unaccompanied migrant children being transported to DSM in April.

  • Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds called for a congressional hearing yesterday.

Today's Smart Brevity count is 904 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The ambiguity of our new race law

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Iowa schools are awaiting guidance over how a new state law targeting lessons on race and sexism will influence classrooms.

Catch up quick: Gov. Kim Reynolds this week signed into law a bill that bans schools from teaching the U.S. or people can be systemically racist or sexist.

  • It goes into effect July 1.

Why it matters: Until the Iowa Department of Education releases more details, schools and their staff have no idea what they can teach or the consequences they might face for violating the law.

The big picture: Iowa Republican lawmakers said their goal is in part to prevent critical race theory — a concept that links racial discrimination to our country's foundations and legal system — from being taught in schools.

  • They're among a number of state leaders moving to limit students' exposure to the theory, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Yes, but: There may be room in the bill to still teach about these concepts. The key is avoiding certain language, said Margaret Buckton, executive director for the Urban Education Network, which represents Iowa's largest school districts.

  • For example: The law bans schools from teaching that the U.S. is racist, but it allows schools to teach that there are systems within government that are racist or have racist outcomes, Buckton said.

Between the lines: Schools are in the middle of partisan disputes on how to teach our children American history and how much to emphasize whether or not today’s racial disparities are linked to systemic racism.

What's ahead: Diversity training for educators will likely change, since the bill details bans on "race and sex stereotyping," Buckton said.

  • Trainings planned for this summer are expected to be postponed.
  • The Iowa Department of Education delayed its own social justice and equity conference in light of the bill, according to IPR.

Of note: Iowa is one of at least 20 other states where race theory restrictions have passed or been introduced this year, according to Chalkbeat.

  • Axios Charlotte and Tampa today outline the actions in their states.
2. Ankeny police find unexploded device in city

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An Ankeny girl found an explosive device while playing outside, reports KCCI.

Ankeny police confirmed to Axios that they handed out letters yesterday alerting some residents to a recently defused "unexploded device" in their area.

  • They were passed out in the Southeast Waywin Drive area and surrounding neighborhoods, Ankeny police Sgt. Corey Schneden told Linh.

Details: A resident showed us their letter.

  • It says law enforcement located the device, rendering it safe. Schneden declined to share specifics.
  • It also asks residents for help identifying the person(s) responsible, and to call police if they stumble upon a suspicious object.

Context: Residents have been extra vigilant since Ankeny police discovered a live pipe bomb near a polling site March 2. There are still few details about who planted the bomb at the Lakeside Center, which was found during a special election.

  • It's unknown if the recently found device is related to the pipe bomb, Schneden said.
  • As we previously reported, some residents say they've experienced booms so loud in recent months that their homes have shaken.

Read the whole letter.

3. Morgue on the move

The Polk County Medical Examiner's Office is currently located at Broadlawns Medical Center. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

The cramped Polk County Medical Examiner's Office is looking for some new digs.

Why it matters: The office conducts essential work, specifically autopsy and death investigation services. Finding the right location is crucial for long-term efficiencies.

  • 👃🏼 Of note: Inadequate or outdated medical examiner facilities in other states have resulted in serious problems, including smells that drift into public spaces.

Driving the news: Polk County supervisors this week agreed to a $39K feasibility study to evaluate new locations for the office.

  • It'll be completed by late summer.

Context: Staff began raising concerns about the crowded office — currently located at Broadlawns Medical Center — more than a decade ago.

Renovation or new construction at Broadlawns is possible. Other possibilities mentioned by supervisors include:

  • Des Moines University: The school is moving to a new WDM spot next year, leaving an opportunity to possibly relocate to the campus.
  • Public safety facility: A new $20 million sheriff's headquarters is under construction, so space is available at the current location between Ankeny and DSM.
4. Candidates rush into county attorney race

Laura Roan (left) and Kimberly Graham announced they're running for Polk County Attorney yesterday. Photos courtesy of Roan and Graham

Two Democratic candidates announced a run for Polk County Attorney yesterday, less than a day after John Sarcone said he isn't seeking reelection this year.

About the candidates:

  • Kimberly Graham is a Des Moines attorney who began mulling a run earlier this year.
  • Laura Roan is an assistant Polk County attorney. She was in the staff meeting when Sarcone announced he's not running.

Why it matters: As the chief law enforcement officer in the county, the position shapes the direction of civil and criminal prosecution.

  • Whoever gets the gig will likely bring policy change.

Background: Sarcone, a Democrat, has been in the job for 30 years.

  • The 72-year-old told KCCI-TV he wants to spend more time with his family.
  • He faced backlash in recent months over prosecution linked with the arrests of civil rights protesters last year, including a journalist who was acquitted of charges.

What they're saying: Both candidates want to focus more on prosecuting violent crime.

💭 Our thought bubble: A lot will happen in the coming months. But you can bank on more candidates coming forward, including some from the GOP.

5. Some weekend ideas

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

⚽️ Pro Iowa hosts a block party for the opening of the new Linnan Park Soccer Mini-Pitch in Clive. Saturday, 11am-2pm.

💉 Iowa Juneteenth Observance Week launches with a health day/vaccination clinic at Western Gateway Park. Saturday, 11am-4pm.

📖 Storyhouse Bookpub's is opening at its new East Village store. Saturday, 10am-6pm.

📚 See WDM's public library renovation and celebrate its 25th anniversary. Saturday, 10am-4pm. Ribbon-cutting at 11am.

😊 Some good news to a story we broke about Iowa’s 33K coronavirus vaccines potentially expiring this month.

  • The expiration deadline of J&J vaccines was yesterday extended by six weeks after health regulators determined it was safe/effective to do so.
  • Polk County health officials told us they don’t think there will be any wasted from their department. (FYI, there’s a J&J vaccine drive Monday, 10am-1pm.)

Have a great weekend.