Students Walkout in Opposition to Current and Proposed Iowa Legislation

Noah Gilbert and Theron Luett

On April 15, 2022, Congress of Racial Equality Facilitator and walk out organizer, Waverly Zhao ’23 and Iowa WTF, a statewide coalition dedicated to mobilizing Iowa youth against discriminatory legislation, organized a student walkout in protest of current and proposed Iowa Legislation.  At 2:08 p.m, students walked out of their 8th hour classes to the front of the building.

According to Iowa WTF, the walk out is to show Iowa legislators and other leaders that students care about their teachers and their education.”We want them to see that students are upset, that we care, and that we want to be involved in these decisions,” the coalition said in a statement. 

In an Instagram post, CORE highlighted three pieces of legislation:

“House File 802, which has already been signed into law, bans all inclusion training surrounding governmental agencies and entities, school districts, and public postsecondary educational institutions. House File 2577  has not yet been passed, but would require schools to have a process in which any parent or guardian can review all instructional material used in a students classroom. The bill also has some over site on social studies and civc classes. Senate File 2369 which has not passed into law, provides more oversight into providing instructional material. The bill would require teachers to make all handouts, presentations and other class materials available to a students Parent or Guardian. The bill also establishes a Student First Optional Sharing Fund, and over site on Social Studies classes.”

“I’ve grown up sitting and watching as no work or change has occurred in our district and our state overall,” said Zhao. But as the Iowa Legislature passed laws and proposed bills putting restrictions on educational material and additional requirements on teachers, Zhao felt she had to do something. “Now with what is happening in the Iowa legislature, it is vital for students to mobilize just as much as adults,” said Zhao. 

After the students walked out, they met in the front of the school where students expressed and shared their experiences and worries relating to the three pieces of legislation. “I realized kind of I’ve had to tell a lot of people an alarming amount of stuff…[that] I have to go through,” said Maxwell Wearmouth-Gweah ‘22, who spoke at the walk out.  “A lot of times people don’t know, at least I’ve been told what I can and can’t do and should or shouldn’t do based on the fact that I’m black.” Wearmouth-Gweah worries that restricting what is taught in schools will only keep repeating the cycle for generations to come, “I hope my children one day won’t have to go through the same teachings that I had to go through,” Wearmouth-Gweah said. 

Riesa Kongshaug ‘23 also spoke at the post walk out gathering, “I came out today because I am someone who loves to learn but I have been feeling very, like they mentioned today, ‘boxed in’ with education,” Kongshaug said.  “I believe that an honest education is the best policy and it’s the only way to be able to ensure that the atrocities committed in our past are not repeated.”

The last bell of the school day signaled for the ending of the walk out.  “I think the walkout itself went well. Johnston doesn’t have a very politically active student body, so the turnout we got was unexpected,” Zhao said, as she was surprised by a bigger than expected student turn out. “The only saddening thing was the taunting done by those that did not agree, which showed a lot of immaturity from the other side,” Zhao said. Although there was no counter walk out or protest, some students did try to intimidate and taunt walk out participants by wearing oppositional clothing and watching from a distance. “I am proud of everyone that walked out and admire the bravery of Johnston students,” Zhao said.