Recently, students have organized learn-ins and walkouts for Palestine, Perry High and other causes. Photos used with permission of Zoe Smith and WSS Photographers.
Recently, students have organized learn-ins and walkouts for Palestine, Perry High and other causes. Photos used with permission of Zoe Smith and WSS Photographers.
Anna Greenlee

A guide to student activism at West

Students at West have been and still are pushing for change. Learn about free speech rights, student activism at West and how to get involved.

The First Amendment guarantees students the right to free speech, and despite some limitations, this has allowed for a huge amount of activism and change from today’s youth. In 1969, Tinker vs Des Moines Independent Community School District laid the foundation for students’ free speech.

In 1965, John F. Tinker and his three siblings, Mary Beth Tinker, Hope Tinker and Paul Tinker, along with family friend Christopher Eckhardt, wore black armbands to school to protest involvement in the Vietnam War. The principals in the district, having learned about the armbands beforehand, instated a policy that suspended students for wearing one. The Tinkers still wore them and were promptly suspended. 

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union, a branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, helped the Tinkers file a lawsuit. It was taken to the Supreme Court after the US District Court ruled in favor of the Des Moines school district.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Tinkers under the reasoning that the First Amendment protected children in schools as well as adults and that student activism would have to disrupt the school environment in order to be censored. 

It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.

— United States Supreme Court

This created the Tinker or disruption test, which asks if the student’s actions “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school” or “reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities,” in which case it could be censored. If not, students are completely protected and free to continue.

Under these established rights, students across the country have led walkouts and protests, and West is no exception. Many organizations, clubs and individuals have used their voices and rights to bring change, in more ways than one.



One example of someone who stays active is Andy Ham ’23, a member of West High’s Colors Club. “Within the past few years, things have really been getting worse based on the hateful stuff that’s going on in our state. I’ve gotten more and more active over the years,” Ham said.

Knowledge is the key to change. Ham stays up to date on current events through email subscription services and social media, which keeps them updated on changes in politics and law, such as recent anti-transgender legislation. However, they don’t recommend echo chambers, tunnel vision or following too many influencers.

“Even though it has its problems, find something on social media…if you can find one organization that updates you on legislative issues, do that. If you want an organization, Colors is here…if you want you can start something even more active. There are plenty of events in the community that you can learn about if you keep your ear to the ground.”

But I think the most important thing to remember is that we are advocating for human rights. And if you are passionate about that, keep being passionate about that.

— Andy Ham '23

The youth are and always have been the drivers of change. Through free speech rights and rulings like Tinker v Des Moines, students can fight for the change they want to see in the world.

Ham said, “…I think, for students, it’s really important to try and shape our own future rather than let some people who are not thinking about us design our future as a country, as a world, as a state. I think it’s just important for students to be aware of what’s going on, because it’s going to impact us more than more than it’ll impact anybody else. Because we are the future. Legislators don’t necessarily have to worry about 50 years in the future. We do.”

Leave a Comment
Navigate Left
Navigate Right
About the Contributor
Anna Greenlee, Graphics Editor
Anna is a sophomore in her first year on staff. She's the graphics editor for the WSS website, as well as part of the school's band, theatre and sophomore volleyball team. But on her off time, she likes to watch movies (which make her cry really easily), cook, bake, paint and go water- or snow-skiing with family.
Donate to West Side Story
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of West High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase Scholarship Yearbooks, newsroom equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to West Side Story
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All West Side Story Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *