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Taft High School Stops Attempted Chapter Of Conservative Youth Group Turning Point USA

Taft's decision sparked support from teachers, parents and some members of its local school council, while the Chicago GOP and others said the decision is censorship.

William Howard Taft High School as seen in the Norwood Park neighborhood on April 29, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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NORWOOD PARK — A controversial youth group with ties to extremists tried to start a chapter at Taft High School — and though the principal said it won’t be tolerated, some students are still pushing to organize.

Last week, a group of students and local Republican groups announced their desire to start a Turning Point USA chapter at Taft, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Taft administration and Chicago Public Schools quickly shot down the attempted startup of the chapter, with officials saying the school will not support a group that promotes racial intolerance and does not celebrate diversity and inclusion.

“All student organizations must align with the Taft mission statement, which is to ‘educate global citizens to create a better world,”‘ Principal Mark Grishaber wrote in a letter to the school community. “Please know that the staff and administration at Taft will never tolerate the formation of any group that does not support these values.”

Beyond the issues with the group’s work, Grishaber told Block Club the students who want to start the Turning Point USA group have not secured a sponsor or filled out an application.

Founded in 2012, Turning Point USA has a presence on more than 2,500 high school and college campuses, and it has three Chicago-area chapters, according to its website. Its political arm, Turning Point Action, has been linked to spreading election and COVID-19 misinformation, according to The Washington Post.

The group has also been linked to white nationalism rhetoric, and its leaders and members have “made multiple racist or bigoted comments and have been linked to a variety of extremists,” according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

An Instagram account for the potential Taft chapter surfaced last week, but there are no posts yet. At one point, its description read, “We aren’t going to give up.”

As of Tuesday, the description was updated to say, “Teachers Union got mad, so we played a power move, rather than just the school, we run the county :).” The account now links to a separate Turning Point Activism Hub in Cook County account.

The people behind the Instagram account for the Taft chapter did not immediately respond to questions, saying they’d have to consult with the national group to determine who could respond.

The controversy comes as Taft’s local school council is preparing to have a meeting 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The public meeting is open to anyone and will also be streamed online.

Taft’s decision to nix the chapter got support from teachers, parents and some on its local school council.

But Chicago GOP officials said in a tweet the move to stop the chapter amounts to censorship.

Amelia “Ammie” Kessem, the 41st Ward Republican committeeman and a 20-year veteran of the Police Department, previously praised students for trying to start the chapter. Kessem posted to her political Facebook page Dec. 5 about the Taft chapter, saying she “could not be more proud” of the students.

“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 Supremists’ 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 Teacher’s union members,” Kessem wrote, with some parents and Taft alumni commenting in agreement.

The Police Department has since launched an internal investigation into Kessem’s social media posts about Turning Point USA, department spokespeople said.

Kessem, who did not reply to requests for comment, has not shared updates after the school’s decision, but she has been investigated by the department in the past for other social media comments that were seen as homophobic and for allegedly harassing a local teacher.

Amy Qin contributed to this report.

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