Controversial yearbook spread removed

COLORADO — Sex, drugs, violence, religion and racism are all issues modern high school students are forced to make decisions about, but according to one community, the discussion of these issues in print is “inappropriate.”Yearbook staffer Sabra Anckner said students at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs prepared a spread for their yearbook about each of the issues above, complete with pictures and written commentary.A committee of parents, teachers, alumni and students apparently did not approve of the spread’s content, however, and censored the pages. The staff was forced to make last minute changes, adding green boxes where pictures and commentary had been.Anckner said the staff and their adviser attempted to resist the changes, but eventually backed down. The staff also tried to include a letter in the yearbook explaining that the principal had censored the pages, but the principal censored that also, Anckner said.Jonah Sheridan, editor in chief of the yearbook, said Principal Jay Engeln claimed he censored the letter because the censorship issue was resolved and he didn’t want the staff to “beat a dead horse” by mentioning it in the book. Sheridan said, however, that most of the students at the school were unaware of the censorship controversy and were confused by the green boxes.Anckner said even if the staff had won their battle to keep their pages intact, they would not have been able to afford the cost of changing them back at the last minute, a cost Sheridan said was “tremendous.” The principal paid the cost of having the censored versions printed.Engeln said the changes were made to clarify some of the spread’s “innuendos.” He said some of the photos were staged, a fact that was not explained in the original spread.Sheridan said even if pictures in the spread were posed, they were a reflection of the truth, including pictures of students kissing in the hall, or smoking marijuana in the park near the school.Engeln said the yearbook’s final product received a mixed reaction from students, teachers and parents. Some resented the changes, while others questioned whether the spread should have been in the yearbook in the first place. He said he thought the spread still got its point across, even with the changes.Though Engeln claimed the committee made an effort not to violate any constitutional rights with their revisions to the yearbook, their right to censor is questionable because Colorado is one of six states that currently has a student free expression law. The law, enacted in 1990, gives students in public schools the “right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press.”The Colorado law and ones similar to it were drafted in response to the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision, that gave school officials greater right to censor student publications under the First Amendment.Sheridan, who graduated in May, said the staff did not pursue the issue legally because they didn’t have the resources to go against the school board. He said he would like the chance, however, to help future staffs avoid controversies like this in the future.