Alana Orecchio, a junior at West Haven High School, won third prize of $300 in the 2020 Connecticut Foundation for Open Government’s Forrest Palmer High School Statewide Essay Contest. Alana wrote about the Killingly Board of Education decision to keep the “Redmen” mascot for Killingly High School although it was previously rejected as a racist symbol.
Alana wrote: “Overall, there is no legal obligation for the Killingly Board of Education to change its mascot under the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech; however, as some students, teachers, and Native American groups in Killingly believe, the school board possesses a moral obligation to respect those tribes that were abused,” she wrote. “Changing the ‘Redmen’ mascot would fulfill this moral obligation.”
The contest is named in honor of the late Forrest Palmer, a decorated World War II veteran, who began the contest in 2000 when he was president of CFOG’s board of directors. CFOG is a nonprofit educational organization founded on the principle that open, transparent government is in the public interest. CFOG sponsors the essay contest to encourage thought and debate among students on public and freedom of information issues.
Yarid Tyran, also a junior at West Haven High School, won an Honorable mention award of $50. Yarid wrote about the N-word controversy at UCONN last fall.
Students were asked to write essays on one of three topics:
1. In October 2019, two University of Connecticut students were charged under a state hate-crime law for yelling the N-word on campus. The comments were not directed at a specific individual. Should these students have been charged with a criminal offense? Does the First Amendment protect offensive speech?
2. The Killingly Board of Education has voted to keep the “Redmen” mascot for Killingly High School although it was previously rejected as a racist symbol. Students, teachers and Native American groups had urged the board not to do this. In Killingly, the dispute became an election issue last fall. Is it a First Amendment issue?
3. In most communities, student publications are subject to approval by faculty advisers, school principals and school superintendents. When a subject is controversial, their instinct is often toward censorship to avoid criticism. Should Connecticut have a state law that protects student free expression?