School image, not yearbook, intact

Thanks to the permanent nature of a high school yearbook, staffs who simply mean to impart lasting memories to classmates can find themselves embroiled in particularly bitter censorship battles with administrators trying to protect school image.

Students are often left wondering whose book the yearbook is.

The question came to mind immediately for Lindsay Workman, last year’s editor of the Lewis Central High School yearbook in Iowa.

Workman, now a freshman at Iowa Western Community College, said she was surprised to learn through other students when the yearbook was printed that a spread about student drug use had been replaced with generic ‘filler pages’ about current world events.

The dropped pages included a student survey, photographs of confiscated drugs and paraphernalia and interviews with two anonymous classmates who used drugs. Administrators said the spread was poorly reported because it did not include the total number of students polled nor did it identify the drug users interviewed as Lewis Central students.

Administrators said the decision to replace the spread was left up to the editor for this year’s edition, Stacy Porter. Porter has said she was not comfortable with the responsibility for the final decision, and she told administrators she thought it was not her call to make.

Iowa is one of six states that provide student publications with more protection from administrative control or censorship than federal law dictates.

Workman said she and other former staff members staged a peaceful protest as the yearbooks were being distributed after the homecoming football game. The protesters handed out copies of the deleted spread, and Workman said that the 500 students in attendance were overwhelmingly supportive.

Workman said she is currently weighing her options for legal action.

Marissa De La Rosa was frustrated enough over her elementary school’s decision to change her design of the yearbook cover to take them to court.

The Rock Island School District in Illinois requested that De La Rosa remove the phrase, ‘God bless America,’ from the cover of the Ridgewood Elementary School annual. She sued, but a federal judge ruled in favor of the district’s decision to change the artwork.

The federal district court granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment in July, saying that the school had a compelling argument in trying to avoid a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which outlines requirements for the separation of church and state. The public school had expressed concerns about the appearance of endorsing religion.

De La Rosa’s attorney, Steven Ames, had contended that the phrase is ‘a timeworn patriotic slogan which does not violate the Establishment Clause.’

Despite the pending lawsuit, the school printed the yearbook with an altered cover, replacing ‘God bless America’ in De La Rosa’s design with the phrase, ‘Proud to be an American.’

Ames said they will not appeal.

Students in California were surprised to hear that a judge did not rule against their school’s prior review policy of their yearbook, despite state-mandated protections of the student press.

The judge’s decision was bittersweet for eight Salinas High School students who were suing over their 2000 ‘ 2001 yearbook. Administrators agreed to publish a removed section of the yearbook as part of a settlement reached a few days before the August trial date.

A Monterey County Superior Court judge, however, said a set of publication guidelines that the school district put in place shortly after the students filed their suit were acceptable, said the students’ attorney Steven Andre.

‘[The judge] basically’ ratified what the district was doing last year,’ Andre said. ‘It was a bad decision for us.’

Andre said the decision was surprising because California, like Iowa, provides legal protection for student speech beyond what federal law dictates. Andre said an appeal might be filed.

In the meantime in Iowa, Lindsay Workman may well be in the beginning stages of another legal battle over her high school yearbook.

She said she is not sure what else to do.

‘I hate to let them get away with this,’ said Workman.

Guzman v. Elizondo, No. M55119 (Sup.Ct. Monterey County Sept. 15, 2002)

De La Rosa v. Rock Island School District, No. 02-CV-4030 (C.D.Ill. July 2, 2002)