50 years after historic suspension, the Tinkers return to Des Moines schools

This week marked the 50th anniversary of five students’ suspension from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. That suspension set the stage for the landmark 1969 Supreme Court ruling, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

Mary Beth Tinker, her brother John and John’s friend Chris Eckardt sued the school district for violating their First Amendment rights by suspending them for wearing armbands. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that students’ speech was protected and students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

That landmark ruling has created the Tinker test for school officials — they cannot punish or prohibit student speech unless they can clearly demonstrate that it will result in a material and substantial disruption of normal school activities or invade the rights of others.

Starting in 2013, Mary Beth Tinker has traveled across the country on a “Tinker Tour” to speak to students about the First Amendment. On the week of Dec. 14, Mary Beth and her siblings Dr. Hope Tinker and Paul Tinkerhess revisited the Des Moines school district to talk to students about their half-century-old act of free expression that had such long-lasting and significant effects.