Update: Taft HS says no decision on Turning Point USA club until one is applied for, but GOP group says any potential faculty sponsor likely scared away by school statement; principal Grishaber praised for support of vets, gets new contract offer
by BRIAN NADIG
In the past two weeks Taft High School has been a hot topic on social media regarding a group of students wanting to form a local chapter of the conservative Turning Point USA and a canceled Pearl Harbor Day remembrance ceremony.
Contrary to multiple reports in the news and on social media, the school has not made any decision on whether students could have a Turning Point club on campus, according to Taft principal Mark Grishaber.
“I did not cancel that … they haven’t even applied to be an organization (at the school),” Grishaber said at the Dec. 14 meeting of the Taft Local School Council.
He said after the meeting that some students have expressed interest in a Turning Point club but that they would have to first find a faculty sponsor and there would then be a decision on whether the club would comply with the school’s mission to “educate global citizens to create a better world.”
Controversy erupted after 41st Republican Committeeperson Ammie Kessem, who also is a police sergeant and a Taft parent, made a Facebook post praising “some brave students” who were planning to launch a Turning Point club at Taft.
Turning Point is a national organization that, according to its website, has chapters at more than 2,500 high school and college campuses in the country and promotes the principles of free markets, limited government and upholding the Constitution. It reportedly has chapters at some suburban schools but none at public schools in Chicago.
“In a city where liberal progressives have continually and unjustifiably attacked the characters of conservatives, including myself and my children, by calling us ‘Nazis,’ ‘White supremacists,’ and outright ‘racists,’ I am certain these students realize that this will almost certainly be scrutinized by the administration at this school which seems to embrace the Marxist views of a substantial amount of the Chicago Teachers Union,” she posted.
The school later released a statement calling the school’s diversity “our strength” and stating that Taft strives to create a positive learning experience.
The statement did not mention “Turning Point” by name but did state, “we were disturbed to learn that an organization promoting racial intolerance has been associated with our school.”
The teachers union has praised Taft’s statement and tweeted that Turning Point provides a platform for “harmful and racist rhetoric.”
“Turning Point supporters are crying ‘censorship’ after their attempt at infiltrating Taft H.S. was defeated, but there are First Amendment exceptions in many contexts. We do not need to accommodate any organization that threatens school community safety,” the union also tweeted.
Northwest Side GOP Club president Matt Podgorski said that he feels the school’s statement was intended to intimidate students in hope that they would abandon their plans and to scare away any potential faculty sponsor of the club. If the school had any intentions to properly consider allowing the club, “then why did it send out that letter (the statement),” he said.
The Chicago Police Department has issued a statement that it has opened an internal investigation into Kessem’s comments. She has told Fox News that it is department policy to look into any complaint against an officer and that it does not necessarily mean a complaint has merit.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that a double standard appears to be at play in regard to Kessem and that he doubts the department would be investigating her if she had praised students for wanting to form a club supported by progressives.
“If this was a different political side, you wouldn’t hear anything,” said Napolitano, a former police officer. Also, on his campaign Facebook page, Napolitano said, “This cancel culture is disgusting.”
On whether Taft should allow the club if an application is filed, Napolitano said, the decision should be up to the school administration, which he has found to have “the best interests of the kids in mind.”
Podgorski said that Kessem has never been disciplined by the department following any complaint during her 20-year career and that it is disingenuous of the department to release statements to the media that she is under investigation for making comments related to her roles as a committeperson and a parent of a Taft student.
Podgorski said that Turning Point’s founder Charlie Kirk, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, has a nationally syndicated radio show and created the organization in an effort to empower young people to promote conservative principles.
Meanwhile, Taft alum and veteran Art Ellingsen said that the remembrance ceremony, which was scheduled to be held on the plaza outside Taft on Dec. 7, was canceled by the school due to the cold weather.
However, many veterans still showed up and held the ceremony, without any student participation, but that led to attacks on social media against the school and the principal for not allowing the ceremony ,to be held indoors.
Grishaber said that time constraints prevented the ceremony from being moved indoors due to COVID-19 protocols for guests and any volunteers who interact with students.
Ellingsen said that based on what he thought was unfair attacks against Grishaber on social media, including calls for his removal, he felt obligated to clarify matters and to make sure the community was aware of Grishaber’s support of veterans.
“(Grishaber) is the most pro-veteran employee in the Chicago Public Schools,” Ellingsen said at the Dec. 14 meeting. Ellingsen listed several initiatives, including honoring vets at football games and installing a veterans memorial, which Taft has done in recent years.
LSC members applauded Ellingsen’s comments. At the meeting the council presented Grishaber with written notice that it was renewing his contract, which was approved in November.
Grishaber said that at graduation he gives students one last lesson, telling them that they must always thank a veteran for their service. “There is no exception to that rule,” he said.