Ames High Walkout: Iowa WTF?


Lauren Anderson

David Lee directs the crowd of students on the walkout path.

On Friday, April 15th, hundreds of Ames High students walked out of their eighth-period classes to protest a series of bills passed by the Iowa legislature targeting education. The walkout was organized by the club SACRE, Students Advocating for Civil Rights Education, in collaboration with Iowa WTF, a student-led group dedicated to opposing discriminatory legislation. Iowa WTF includes schools from Ankeny, Johnston, West Des Moines, and Ames, who all walked out of classes at the end of the week. 

In Ames, students left their classes at 1:45 p.m and gathered at the front entrance of the school before walking around the construction site in front of the school, and ultimately meeting on the football field for a discussion of the legislation. Students carried signs reading “don‘t hide our history”, “repeal HF802”, and “trans rights are human rights.” Students shared their thoughts through hand-held megaphones for half an hour while sitting in a large circle on the football field. They spoke about three recent pieces of legislation: House Files 802, 2416, and 2577. Then, around 2: 30 p.m, the crowd dispersed so students could catch their buses home. 

Prior to the event, SACRE consulted with Ames High administration, who agreed not to mark students absent from class or stop them in any way from protesting. However, the school maintains a neutral stance on the bills being questioned.


The Legislation in Question

House File 802 was passed last summer, preventing teachers from discussing “divisive concepts” in the classroom; ideas such as white privilege and systemic racism. While the law itself was vague, critics worried that it would cause a chilling effect, intimidating teachers into avoiding any discussions that could make students uncomfortable. 

In March, Kim Reynolds also signed a law banning transgender women from participating in any K-12 and collegiate level sports. According to the Governor, the law would function to protect cisgender girls from the biological advantages transgender girls allegedly have.  Also in March, House File 2577 was signed into law, requiring Iowa teachers to post class materials online for parents to freely review. Parents can also request to have classroom materials removed from the curriculum. 


Student Voices: 

Walking past the crowd of students, onlookers found that the group was most vocal about HF 802 and the legislation targeting LGBTQ+ rights.   

Sophomore Sophia Vernon, shared her perspective on the effects of House File 802 specifically. 

“My mom’s a teacher so I get to see all of everything that goes on in the background and how these harmful legislations impact her and her mental health. It’s really hurtful to limit… everything that she can teach about in class. We need to prioritize our teachers.”

Many protestors also wore clothing and held signs supporting LGBT+ rights.  They voiced their concerns about the direction of Iowa law. 

“I really disagree with all of the bills that… have been passed.. It’s worth being taught the right thing, even if it is a little bit controversial. These are human rights. Not just trans people’s rights. These are human rights,” said freshmen Bianca Garciano. 

The students also explained the merits of their form of protest, a walkout. 

“I think it’s a great way to display you’re serious about what you’re protesting and also do it in a respectful way,” said Amelia Yoder. 

“[I walked out] for my education, for my fellow people of the LGBTQ community, and for my peers,” said sophomore KZ. “It’s a good opportunity for a large group of people to come together. It’s a really big eye-opener to see how many people care about this and how many people this really affects even in a small town like Ames.”

As for Ames High’s organizer David Lee, he spent plenty of time in the couple of weeks before the walkout posting on Instagram stories and imploring peers to participate. He and fellow leaders of SACRE created posts on social media to explain the legislation and met with club members the week prior to create signs for the protest. Despite these measures, there was still some uncertainty as to whether or not all students would be prepared for the event; after all, it takes time to articulate the specifics of the legislation. 

Luckily, David Lee said that he was satisfied with the turnout and student participation. 

“I was kind of worried since we didn‘t have a meeting before to go really in-depth about these bills, that people were not gonna know what the bills are or have anything to contribute to the conversation, but we had a lot of people contribute.” 

Lee pointed out how one student came out as trans during the speeches, and how many others were fully engaged in the conversations. 

“I don‘t think I could have asked for anything better,” Lee said.