Tri-State student testifies before Congress on ‘canceled’ speech in the classroom

Clair Mengel argued school board members were ‘using CRT as a scapegoat to cancel open discussion of diversity.’
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 5:18 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, DC (WXIX) - A Turpin High School student testified before a Congressional subcommittee Thursday during a hearing examining political attacks on free speech and classroom censorship.

Clair Mengel’s testimony comes amid ongoing protests by Turpin High School students over the Forest Hills School Board’s decision to cancel the school’s annual Racial Diversity Awareness Day. Hundreds of students staged a walkout Wednesday morning, and dozens appeared at a meeting of the board Wednesday night.

The hearing of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties examined “the ongoing efforts to prohibit discussion in K-12 classrooms about American history, race, and LGBTQ+ issues, and to punish teachers who violate vague and discriminatory state laws by discussing these topics,” according to a statement from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) who chairs the subcommittee.

It’s the second in a series of hearings titled “Free Speech Under Attack.”

Mengel was among three students to testify, the others hailing from Michigan and Texas. The high-schooler spoke specifically about how canceling the Diversity Day impacted the mental health and education of Mengel’s classmates.

”Most critically, students of color are being told by the highest authorities in their district that their stories don’t deserve to take up school time, school grounds or school resources,” Mengel said. “I bring up mental health to remind you that this issue is in many cases and in many ways life and death.”

The Forest Hills School board Initially postponed its Diversity Day from March 31 to Wednesday so parents could receive the agenda, lineup of speakers and sign permission slips for their children to attend. Then the board indefinitely postponed it by stipulating the event could not use school resources or occur during school hours.

Said Mengel, “Our school board told us that the permission slips sent out to parents were not comprehensive enough, so the event had to be postponed. Students could immediately tell that their issue was not with the permission slips. The board members issuing concern had campaigned on anti CRT policies and were using CRT as a scapegoat to cancel open discussion of diversity.”

Racial Diversity Awareness Day had been held on a voluntary basis every year since at least 2017. Typically it comprised a series of activities, discussions, video clips and breakout sessions with guest speakers that focus on history, the criminal justice system and empathy, according to the event’s permission slip.

Following the 2022 event’s cancellation, Mengel and Mengel’s classmates started a GoFundMe that raised more than $13,000 to host their own Diversity Day on May 18 at Heritage Church.

FOX19 reached out to the Forest Hill School District for comment. We have not heard back as of this writing.

School board member Leslie Rasmussen offered the following statement Thursday evening:

“I can only speak for myself, but it’s incredible that Claire and her colleagues have emerged as the heroes and inspired those here and across the country. Claire’s testimony was powerful and truthful. I’m so grateful that they were able to speak their truth and tell their story to Congress.”

Rasmussen is the only member of the Forest Hills School Board in favor of Diversity Day.

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