In anticipation of planned student walkouts across Iowa to protest gun violence, the ACLU of Iowa sent an open letter to all Iowa public schools to provide information about ensuring students' free speech rights. 

The letter was sent to encourage educators to use this moment in history as an opportunity to teach students an important lesson about civic engagement, and the power of using their voices to impact public policy. The letter can be viewed here. 

Specifically, the letter encourages Iowa educators to take the following steps:
  • Interpret absentee policies liberally to allow students to attend demonstrations;
  • Ensure that policies regarding on-campus speech allow ample room for public discussion;
  • Foster discussion among students with different views; and,
  • Provide historical context.

Iowa educators must protect students' First Amendment rights, regardless of the student's viewpoints and regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. Even beyond that, our letter today asks that schools embrace--rather than discourage--students' attempts to demonstrate their concerns in a peaceful manner.

Almost a half century ago, the "Tinker kids" in Des Moines, with the help of the ACLU, spoke out at their schools by wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. At the time, the school district fought their right to do that all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Tinkers set an important precedent for student political speech rights. Now, that same school district has welcomed the adult Tinkers to speak in schools about student rights and even put special plaques on their lockers to honor their legacy.

The Tinker case is an excellent, homegrown illustration of the power of students’ peaceful demonstration can play in our democracy, no matter what the topic and no matter where they are on the political spectrum. This current wave of student activism is part of a rich American tradition.

Photo: Iowa City high school students in February 2018 have a demonstration to show their concerns about gun control. The Little Hawk/Lindy Rubliatus 

 

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