Daniel Hagan, a senior at Immaculate High School in Danbury, has won the first prize of $1,000 in this year’s Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG) high school essay contest.
He wrote about student social media accounts and whether school administrators should have access to them to investigate problems of bullying or the violation of school policies.
“Schools shouldn’t have any more authority over what students are doing online than they have over what students do outside of school in their everyday lives,” he wrote. “As someone who has been on the receiving end of cyber bullying, I can testify that oftentimes the solution is as simple as hitting the block button or walking away from the computer. I can also testify that for every person out there looking to cyber bully someone, there are at least five people ready to defend the victim.”
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 Kevin He, a junior at East Lyme High School, who wrote about the use of private email accounts by government officials to avoid public scrutiny. “The only reason why a state official may want to use a personal email account and stay off the record is because he has something to conceal,” he wrote. “Prohibiting the use of personal email accounts by elected officials neutralizes the risk of corruption and fosters the growth of honest and efficient government.”
A third prize of $300 was won by Kiana Comizio, a junior at Greenwich High School, who wrote about whether 911 calls and crime-scene photos from the 2012 Newtown school shooting and other homicide cases should be made public. “When evidence is broadcast that displays the brutality of an event, people are more likely to be agents of change and attempt to better society,” she wrote. “History has proven that the release of photographs can inform the nation and spur positive change.”
Honorable mention awards of $50 went to Hailey Dias of West Haven High School, Anuj Sisodiya of Trumbull High School, Gabriel Plunkett of Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village, and Katie Williams, Christopher Fenaroli and Lindsay Pecora of Greenwich High School.
Students were asked to write essays on one of three topics: The topics were:
1. Should students be required to give school administrators access to their social media accounts to investigate problems of bullying or the violation of school policies? Does the First Amendment protect students from this?
2. Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act allows access to the emails of government officials so the public can scrutinize the conduct of public business. Some officials use personal email accounts rather than their government email accounts to avoid this public scrutiny. Should this be allowed?
3. In response to the 2012 Newtown school shootings, Connecticut has been debating whether 911 calls and crime-scene photos from the Newtown case as well as future police crime scenes should be made public. Should they be made public?
Judges for the contest were Janet Manko, George Krimsky, Martin Margulies, Lyn Hottes, Forrest Palmer and Mary Connolly.