NORWOOD PARK — A controversial youth group with links to extremists has tried to start a chapter at Taft High School — and although 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 launch a Turning United States chapter at Taft, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. The Taft administration and Chicago Public Schools quickly shot down the attempt to start the chapter, with officials saying the school would not support a group that promotes racial intolerance and fails to celebrate diversity and inclusion.
“All student organizations must align themselves with Taft’s 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 of Taft will never tolerate the formation of a group that does not support these values.”
Beyond issues with the band’s work, Grishaber told The Block Club that students who want to start the Turning Point USA band haven’t found 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 has three chapters in the Chicago area, according to its website. Its political arm, Turning Point Action, has been linked to election broadcasting and COVID-19 misinformation, according to the Washington Post.
The group has also been linked to the rhetoric of white nationalism, and its leaders and members have “made multiple racist or bigoted comments and been linked to a variety of extremists”, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.
A Instagram account for Taft’s potential chapter surfaced last week, but there are no posts yet. At one point, his description read, “We’re not going to give up.”
On Tuesday, the description was updated to read, “The teachers’ union got mad, so we played a stunt, rather than just the school, we run the county :).” The account is now linked to a separate Turning Point Activism Hub account in Cook County.
The people behind the Taft Chapter Instagram account did not immediately respond to questions, saying they should consult with the national group to determine who could respond.
The controversy comes as the local school board in Taft prepares to hold a meeting at 6.30pm on Tuesday. The public meeting is open to all and will also be streamed online.
Taft’s decision to delete the chapter had Support teachers, parents and some members of his local school board.
But Chicago GOP officials said in a Tweeter the decision to stop the chapter amounts to censorship.
Amelia “Ammie” Kessem, a Republican 41st Ward committee member and 20-year veteran of the police department, previously praised the students for trying to start the chapter. Kessem posted on her political Facebook page on Dec. 5 about Taft’s chapter, saying she “couldn’t be prouder” of the students.
“In a city where liberal progressives have continually and unjustifiably attacked conservative personas, including myself and my children, calling us ‘Nazis’, ‘white supremists’ and outright ‘racists’, I am certain that these students realize this is almost certainly going to be scrutinized by the administration of this school which appears to embrace the Marxist views of a substantial number of Chicago teachers union members,” Kessem wrote, along with some parents and alumni of Taft who agree.
The police department has since launched an internal investigation into Kessem’s social media posts regarding Turning Point USA, department spokespersons said.
Kessem, who did not respond to requests for comment, did not share updates after the school’s decision, but she was studied by the department in the past for other comments on social media considered homophobic and for allegedly harassing a local teacher.
Amy Qin contributed to this report.
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