Home > Uncategorized > Note to Yearbook Advisors, HS Principals, and Superintendents: Editing Yearbook Photos is Perilous!

Note to Yearbook Advisors, HS Principals, and Superintendents: Editing Yearbook Photos is Perilous!

March 22, 2021

In the “good old days”, Yearbook editors could oversee their publications without worry. Students told young men they had to wear a tie if they wanted to have their picture in the yearbook and the young women had to be attired in dresses and skirts that conformed to the dress codes. The yearbook messages that appeared next to the pictures were carefully edited to make certain that references to teachers and political events of the day were omitted.

As dress codes loosened in the 1970s and 1980s collared shirts were still required for the young men and young women moved away from the kinds of apparel they would wear to, say, a school dance or church social into more casual clothing. The editing of commentary loosened a bit as the behavior codes loosened as best exemplified by the addition of “smoking areas” to schools and the lyrics to songs that were played on the radio became more explicit. References to drugs, drinking, and sex, though, were routinely cut.

Over time, though, Yearbooks became more and more controlled by the students and Yearbooks themselves became vestiges of a bygone era when girls wore bobby sox and boys were not allowed to wear jeans. To remain relevant and honor the differences and uniqueness of each student, Yearbook pictures often integrated the special interests of students and, alas, their political leanings. And after a series of court cases that gained national attention, the commentary students write is definitely R-rated.

In 2004, a colleague and close personal friend of mine, Nate Greenberg, got swept up in a controversy over a yearbook picture that illustrates the reason that many school administrators despair of setting standards for yearbooks. As Superintendent of Schools in Londonderry NH, Nate was alerted by his HS Principal that a parent intended to sue the school district if the Yearbook did not publish their son’s picture as he submitted it. The picture depicts a smiling well-groomed young man with a shotgun on his shoulder.  His parents said this picture depicted his son’s hobbies, hunting and skeet shooting, and that his son wanted to show this in his yearbook picture the same way student-musicians and student-athletes and other student hobbyists were depicted doing activities they loved. The yearbook advisor, HS Principal, and Nate looked at this differently. As Nate was quoted in the article, allowing the picture of an armed student in the yearbook might send a signal that the school endorsed the use of guns— not a message he wanted to send five years after Columbine. The district ultimately prevailed, but the controversy dragged out for months and was headlined in local newspapers, picked up by the NRA, and Fox news. In the end, the defense was that the administration was supporting the student editors, who were the ones unsettled by the picture and the State Supreme Court upheld that decision.

This incident came to mind when I read Michael Levenson’s NYTimes article about a student whose Trump T-shirt was edited out of a yearbook in NJ. In this case, though, the yearbook advisor, the high school administration, and the Superintendent were not on the same page and, as a result, the yearbook advisor won a $325,000 settlement for having her name besmirched and for the harassment that ensued. Both the Yearbook advisor and Superintendent have retired and, in all probability, neither of them did so recalling the many positive experiences they had throughout their career.

The incident also illustrates how toxic things became between 2004 and 2017. My friend Nate had to respond to a few phone calls from regional reporters but the incident was quickly forgotten once the suit was settled. Contrast that to the experience of the besmirched yearbook advisor:

On June 12, 2017, the student whose logo had been removed appeared on one of Mr. Trump’s favorite programs, “Fox & Friends,” and said, “The people or person who did this should be held responsible because it is a violation of mine and other people’s First Amendment rights.”

That same day, Ms. Parsons said, she was summoned to a meeting with Ms. Dyer and was suspended. Days later, Mr. Trump drew more attention to the issue, decrying “yearbook censorship” at the high school in a Facebook post….

…Ms. Parsons, who said in court papers that she had voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, said she was soon inundated with hate mail and harassing phone messages that called her a Nazi, a communist, anti-American and a “treasonous traitor liberal.”

She said she had been afraid to use her name when ordering takeout food and feared that drivers might try to hit her when she went for bike rides.

When she returned to school in September 2017, she said, she was “disrespected and ridiculed” by students and others who blamed her for removing the Trump references from the yearbook.

She sued the district in May 2019 and retired in February 2020.

Maybe the “good old days” had some merit to them. Maybe yearbook pictures should reflect the unity that high schools aspire to instead of the uniqueness that separates us from each other.

  1. Byron Knutsen
    March 22, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    Yes, there was SO much that was of value that have been thrown out because each person now has to be allowed to think only about themselves (hope I did not offend any with that pronoun) and what each wants, because that is important above all else. And yes, choosing to be offended is another way of saying, only I am important and should count.

    If people of all ages REALLY are really concerned about others, they would feed in food kitchens, cook the food, paint a run down house, repair the sidewalks, help teach fellow students who are behind, visit the elderly, clean up in camp cities, help those who live there, etc. Yes I know there are a few who do this but most “thinkonlyofme-ers” want nothing to do other than destroy- be it physicial properties or emotional well beings. This especially includes those who feel they need to be the police person for the counter-culture groups.

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