Yearbook memorial approved after controversy

PENNSYLVANIA — When Meadville Area High School student Brooke Kneeland died of leukemia last May, friends wanted to pay tribute to her by placing an ad with her picture and two poems in the school’s yearbook.

But school officials initially denied the request, citing a school policy that bans memorials to dead students. In response to the decision, more than 300 people signed a petition asking the high school to make an exception to the rules.

In turn, school board members decided to reevaluate their decision, and ended up allowing the memorial following a school board work session in November.

“The board approved the memorial as it would anything else as far as senior pictures are concerned,” said James LaScola, Crawford Central School District superintendent. He said the memorial would be placed in the back of the yearbook, where it would not be considered the focus of the publication.

LaScola said school officials were initially concerned about the yearbook memorial because it can set a dangerous precedent.

“Often times, a kid who is not a major play may look at that and say…’If I commit suicide, maybe they will dedicate the yearbook to me,” LaScola told the Associated Press. Conversely, the superintendent said an exception could be reached because of the extreme circumstances surrounding the girl’s death.

Students working on the yearbook told a local paper they were frustrated by the board’s initial reaction because they felt they did not have control over the yearbook’s content.

“I felt like they were trying to make us forget our friend,” said Cathi-jo Chase, a friend of Kneeland who presented the petition to the school board. “It’s our yearbook, and we should be the ones to decide what’s in it.”