Now things are different in Des Moines

Second in a series


Des Moines schools, how you have changed since early winter 1965.


That’s when a high school principal got wind of a pending Vietnam War protest – reportedly when his school’s newspaper adviser showed him a story about it for the next issue. He and his fellow principals decided suspensions would be the punishment for anyone who did this.


No matter that it was a silent protest – just black armbands – no walkout, no loud chanting, no marches, no signs. But five students in high schools and a junior high across the city were suspended. Three of them decided this wasn’t fair, and the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District became a case.


The rest is history – actually, it IS history, celebrating a 50th anniversary Sunday, Feb. 24, when the Supreme Court ruled plaintiffs Mary Beth and John Tinker and Chris Eckhardt were right – students and teachers shouldn’t lose their Constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.


And the city’s schools are helping with the festivities. This week in Des Moines and several other sites around central Iowa, the Tinkers are speaking to students at elementary schools, middle and high schools, and even universities about why their voices matter and, more important, why they should use their voices without disrupting school, but still making their concerns known.


School district personnel set up those meetings at nine schools across the city, supporting with AV and food and logistical help. More important they supported by showing they believe in the values and freedoms the case represents.


On the Des Moines Public School website is DMPS and the Tinkers: From Adversaries to Allies, which digs into the background of the school board proceedings, including how the final vote had two board members supporting the students’ right to protest with armbands.


Today, the district supports student speech. Superintendent Tom Ahart, who accepted and wore an armband the Tinkers gave him on a 2013 trip through the city, had an opinion piece in the Feb. 13 Des Moines Register: Fifty years after losing landmark free-speech case, Des Moines schools celebrate Tinker ruling. And he will be recognized at Sunday’s press conference and reception at Harding Middle School, where 13-year-old Mary Beth was suspended.


Des Moines schools, as one of your alumnae, I’m glad you’ve changed the way you have. Let’s hope in the next 50 years – or less! – many more schools can have a similar change of heart.

POSTED: Thursday, February 21, 2019 09:06 AM
Updated: Sunday, January 29, 2023 01:05 PM
Candace Perkins Bowen