Community members attend free expression conference

Berk Oto, Assistant Editor

Hoping to observe diverse viewpoints, U-High students teachers and administrators attended the Free Expression and Open Discourse in High School conference convened by the University Chicago Sept. 12-14.

Representatives from twelve independent schools attended the conference. The university arranged speakers, including professors and U-High history teacher Christy Gerst, and provided time for discussion and deliberation throughout the conference.

The conference addressed questions of how far a person’s right to free expression should go, and whether offensive speech should be allowed at school. While public schools are required to provide First Amendment rights to students due to the landmark Supreme Court decision Tinker v. Des Moines, independent schools like Lab face no such legal requirements and are able to limit these rights.

In addition to Ms. Gerst, U-High’s delegation included juniors Cali Abbey, Eliza Doss, and Ramsey Radwan; English teacher Sari Hernandez; journalism teacher Logan Aimone; Principal Paul Beekmeyer and Laboratory Schools Director Charlie Abelmann.

“I worked in a country where if you said anything negative about one of the leaders, as part of my teaching contract, was you could be fired and you also could be arrested,” Mr. Beekmeyer said. “I strongly feel that all ideas should be open to exploration and challenge.”

Attendees from U-High met after the conference and largely agreed that there should be an in-depth conversation about free speech at the Laboratory Schools. According to Ramsey, while the conversation stayed general, some ideas were broadly considered.

“There was discussion of mentioning such topics both in classroom settings like advisory, as well as assemblies,” Ramsey said. “In order to find answers, we have to deliberate as a student body, and I think the administration should encourage that,”

Attendees also realized that free expression was not as clear-cut an issue as they had assumed prior to attending the conference.

“The issue of free speech is even more complicated than I thought of initially,” Ramsey said. “The issue of free expression will not easily be solved.”