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Education

Turpin High School student addresses Congressional subcommittee about Diversity Day cancelation

051922 Mengel congressional subcommittee.PNG
Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
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Screenshot from May 19, 2022 hearing
Turpin High School senior Claire Mengel addressed the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in Washington D.C. on May 19, 2022.

Just one day after a student walkout at Turpin High School regarding Diversity Day's cancelation, a senior appeared in front of a Congressional subcommittee to discuss their experiences.

Claire Mengel addressed the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The hearing addressed "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."

For several years, Diversity Day has been held in Turpin's Forest Hills School District — which is 90% white — to highlight cultural and racial issues for junior and senior students. But earlier this month, the FHSD school board voted 4-0 to put the event on hold, stating that the event would no longer happen during school hours, use school resources or be paid for by taxpayers. Then, the school district announced its cancelation.

Multiple school board members campaigned on an anti-critical race theory (CRT) platform, even holding protests within the school district last year. Mengel says the board used CRT as a scapegoat to cancel open discussion on diversity within the district and that Forest Hills is in the middle of a mental health crisis.

"Seven students have committed suicide since I've started middle school," Mengel said. "While administrators are doing everything they can just to keep us alive, the anti-CRT rhetoric by the school board is causing immeasurable stress on our students and staff. I and other students spent many hours planning this replacement event instead of studying exams and cherishing our last weeks of high school."

Mengel said the board's actions have made teachers scared to voice their opinions on the issue.

"I have had teachers whisper to me that they wish they could take a sticker that says 'Protect Diversity Day,' but they fear repercussions," Mengel said. "Something has gone very wrong when teachers think they will be fired for supporting the concept of diversity."

More than 300 Turpin High School students participated in a walkout on Wednesday to protest the cancelation of Diversity Day earlier this month. The walkout occurred on the scheduled date for Diversity Day, May 18. Later that day, a scaled-down Diversity Day organized by students took place at Heritage Unitarian Universalist Church.

Updated: May 20, 2022 at 10:32 AM EDT
A previous version of this article included a mention of the pronouns Claire Mengel uses, which does not comply with guidance from the Trans Journalists Association. It has been removed.