High school yearbook controversy a missed opportunity



Who would’ve guessed that high school yearbooks, those thick, hardbound collections of nostalgia and memories, could be so controversial?

When I dared to look at mine, and I did so just before I sat to write this, I wasn’t overwhelmed with feel-good sentimentality. (That may have to do with the dust that touched off a sneezing attack.) My thoughts instead turned to the practical: What was I thinking wearing my hair in that fashion?

But yearbooks have turned into more than a record of homecoming, pep rallies, club membership and academic honors. They’ve become the battleground where students confront the administration, where changing mores butt against traditional values.

The latest incident involves two pregnant students in a small Michigan town who claim they’re being discriminated against because school officials won’t allow full-body pictures of them in White Cloud High School’s yearbook. The bosses at the school district said showing the girls’ bellies goes against the state’s abstinence-based approach to sex education.

Junior Deonna Harris and senior Kimberly Haney have refused to take new photos to replace the ones that show them preggers. Instead they’re going public, granting interviews and appearing on TV.

Harris, who was pulled out of class by a yearbook staff member for a re-take, was hurt by the explanation. “It’s not like I was holding my belly. I wasn’t promoting it in any way,” she told a local TV reporter.

Haney, who with her boyfriend was voted “Most Likely to Get Married,” was featured in a photo in which he is jokingly proposing to her. “I also went to the bathroom and cried,” she said, after being told that picture was a no-go.

I don’t know what to think, my thoughts are that jumbled and contradictory. On the one hand, I wonder why we’re focusing on silly photographs that will soon be forgotten when we could instead be aiming the spotlight on whether abstinence-only sex ed works. (If White Cloud High, with just over 325 students, is an accurate indication of effectiveness, the program would rate a D.)

On the other hand, I wonder: Is a pregnancy pic the best reflection of a high school career? Really? Is that how anybody wants to be remembered, not for athletic exploits or community activism?

Harris and Haney aren’t the only students jockeying for self-expression in the wrong place at the wrong time. Earlier this month, a student at Wheatmore High School in North Carolina had her photo pulled when she submitted one of herself holding her son after the yearbook asked seniors for a picture with a prop that represents their achievements.

And last year, a fluff-head in Colorado accused the high school yearbook staff of censorship when it refused to accept a racy photo of her posing in a black shawl and short yellow skirt. She claimed it was “artistic.” In reality, it was tasteless and inappropriate.

I’m not sold on the White Cloud girls’ accusation of discrimination. Nor do I accept the charges of censorship. Editors everywhere make publishing decisions based on market and morals, and the administration did give the Michigan moms-to-be the option of using other photos. However, I think we’re missing an opportunity.

These girls have shown courage — and maybe a bit of clueless optimism, too — in deciding to keep and raise their babies. Should we not find a way to offer them some kind of support?

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

Read more Ana Veciana Suarez stories from the Miami Herald

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