DES MOINES, Iowa — As bills that impact education in Iowa pass through the Legislature, it’s not just parents and educators paying attention. A group of Des Moines Public School students is planning a walkout for Monday afternoon.
DMPS Racial Equity and Justice, which is made up of students district-wide, will gather at the steps of the Iowa Capitol to protest bills that they say are threatening their education and will erase the progress they’ve worked for.
“We effectively removed SROs [student resource officers] to dismantle school to prison pipeline that targets a lot of students of color, criminalizes a lot of students of color,” said Endi Montalvo-Martinez, a student at East High School and co-leader of DMPS Racial Equity and Justice Team. “Creating ethnic courses like Chicano studies and African American studies, and that bill would essentially make those courses unavailable for next year. So that’s like going like violating the work that we’ve been doing this entire year.”
Montalvo-Martinez is referring to House File 802: banning the teaching of “divisive concepts.” Another bill students are protesting is House File 813: modifying and establishing private charter school programs.
Student organizers want to make it clear this is not a protest against their schools or districts, rather something they want to do in collaboration. They hope the walkout format sends a specific message.
“I think it just kind of shows how it does disrupt our school setting, it does disrupt our learning for this to happen,” said Lyric Sellers, student at East High School and co-leader of DMPS Racial Equity and Justice Team. “So just to show we’re not going to stand for that type of environment. I think it’s really powerful that we have teachers and principals who are encouraging it as well because it just shows that we’re standing in solidarity, so the only people against us are the people that are passing these bills and writing these bills.”
DMPS Racial and Equity is made up of high schools, middle schools, and even feeder elementary schools within the district. Sellers said even though this is the group’s first time organizing a walkout, they’ve been strong in their activism throughout the school year.
“In this past year we’ve done lots of work towards equity and antiracism in our district, and we have just seen so much retaliation when it comes to our legislation,” Sellers said. “So I think just to show the power of the people and that we’ll show up for education as we have in the past. Just showing that we’re really committed to this work, and that we want our legislation to be as well.”
The walkout will take place Monday afternoon at 1:45. The official event at the Iowa Capitol will begin at 2:10 so people have time to arrive. Participants are asked to wear masks and socially distance.