2019 CFOG Essay Contest News Release

May 15, 2019
Contact: Mary Connolly
CFOG Essay Contest Chair

Greenwich, West Haven, Amity Regional win top prizes;
honorable mentions to Northwestern Regional

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

He wrote about a controversy at Baraboo High School in Wisconsin involving students who posed for a photo with their arms raised in an apparent Nazi salute. The photo went viral on social media and was widely criticized, although some students said it was not meant to be a Nazi salute. School administrators did not discipline them, citing First Amendment protections and the difficulty in determining the students’ intentions.

In his essay, he reviewed U.S. Supreme Court cases involving free-speech issues for schools. “In Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court set ‘the general rule for regulating school speech,’ establishing that speech is protected unless it ‘materially and substantially disrupt(s) the work and discipline of the school.’ … Therefore, the school district made the correct decision in not punishing the students.’ ”

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 Niki Patel, a junior at West Haven High School. She also wrote about the Nazi salute controversy and, citing Supreme Court rulings, determined the students should not have been disciplined.

“The Baraboo school district may have reached the proper decision,” she wrote, “but clearly the school must set higher standards by educating students on the brutality and bigotry of the Holocaust.”

A third prize of $300 was won by Ariba Chaudhry of Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, who also wrote about the incident at Baraboo High School. She won an honorable mention award in the 2018 CFOG essay contest.

“By avoiding any form of disciplining the students and trying to shirk the blame,” she wrote, “the school is contributing to the growing problem of the normalization of extremism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacy. A school is meant to be a place of learning, to educate the leaders of tomorrow, not a breeding ground for hatred.”

Honorable mention awards of $50 went to Justin Bracero and Winnie Jiang of West Haven High School; Caroline Crone and April Ruopp of Northwestern Regional High School in Winchester; and Henry McGannon and Emil Perdue of Greenwich High School.

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

1. Wisconsin high school students posed for a photo with their arms raised in an apparent Nazi salute. School officials did not discipline them, citing the students’ First Amendment protections. Was that the correct decision?

2. The student newspaper at Har-Ber High School in Springdale, AR, was censored by school administrators after an investigative report on the transfer of six football players to a rival school. Administrators later allowed the report to be republished but insist they should have prior approval of all articles. Should student newspapers be subject to prior administrative approval?

3. The University of California, Berkeley, recently settled a lawsuit that claimed discrimination against conservative speakers. Should universities be able to impose fees and security requirements because certain speakers attract crowds and even protests?

Judges for the contest were Janet Manko, Martin Margulies, Tom Crider, Lyn Hottes, Forrest Palmer, Eileen FitzGerald and Mary Connolly.