2015 High School Essay Contest

2015 High School Essay Contest

May 15, 2015
Contact: Mary Connolly
CFOG Essay Contest Chair

Greenwich and Waterbury Arts Magnet School students win top prizes; honorable mentions to Greenwich, Northwestern Regional and Trumbull

Alexis Tatore, a junior at Greenwich High School, has won the first prize of $1,000 in this year’s Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG) high school essay contest.

She wrote about online threats and whether they are protected free speech or a crime that should be prosecuted.

“Online threats remain a complicated crime,” she wrote, “but they’re far from a victimless crime. With an evolving framework of law, the country needs to extend its framework to the online community. Justice Holmes redefined the limits on the First Amendment with his famous opinion in Schenck v. United States. If one were to take an emotional, vulnerable teen and shoot them down with degrading messages, how is that any different from shouting fire in a crowded theater?”

CFOG, a nonprofit educational organization, sponsors the essay contest each year to encourage thought and debate among students on public and freedom of information issues and to increase student knowledge of the value of open government in a democratic society.

A second prize of $500 was won by Cole Schmidt, a senior at Waterbury Arts Magnet School. He wrote about the use of police body cameras and whether the public should have access to the video.

“The use of recording devices in law enforcement is inevitable and should be encouraged,” he wrote. “Some protection is offered to both parties (police and public) via a recording and learning opportunities can be generated that can help educate the public on how to interact with law enforcement and educate the police, too, in their encounters with the public.”

A third prize of $300 was won by Bennett Brain, a junior at Greenwich High School, who also wrote about police body cameras.

“In weighing the overall benefits and costs of police use of body cameras,” he wrote, “the scale tips decisively in favor of requiring them. Police will be motivated to act in accordance with the law and, at the same time, have a powerful means to fight false accusations. This can only benefit the public.”

Honorable mention awards of $50 went to Sarah Barnaby and Christopher Healy of Greenwich High School, Jack Hislop of Northwestern Regional High School in Winsted, and Shravan Wadhwa of Trumbull High School.

Students were asked to write essays on one of three topics: The topics were:

  1. Police departments are increasingly using recording devices to document their activity. Should police officers have discretion in recording events? Should every contact a police officer has with the public be captured by a body camera? Should the public have access to this video?
  1. Are online threats of violence, such as wild rantings against an individual on Facebook, protected free speech under the First Amendment? Or are such threats crimes that should be prosecuted?
  1. To catch a suspect believed responsible for high school bomb threats in Seattle, the FBI created a fake Associated Press story and an FBI agent posed as an AP reporter. Media organizations say this tactic undermines their credibility with the public and their ability to serve as a government watchdog. Should the FBI use such tactics?

Judges for the contest were Janet Manko, George Krimsky, Martin Margulies, Lyn Hottes, Forrest Palmer and Mary Connolly.