Editors: Colo. yearbook adviser spikes feature on lesbian couple, deletes pages

COLORADO — Theeditor of the Palmer High School yearbook claims her adviser censored aphotograph of a lesbian couple, then deleted several pages of work inretaliation against students who fought the decision.

RetrospectEditor-in-Chief Anna Carmichael said students have been in an ongoing disputewith adviser Angie Selman over a “relationships” page. Carmichael said the pageis about relationships in high school, specifically focusing on a lesbiancouple who have been dating for four years. According to Carmichael, Selman cutthe page because it was “morally offensive.”

Student Life Editor Coco Toribio was working on the page when Selman told him to “cut the gaycouple, or I’ll cut the page,” according to both Carmichael and Toribio.

Carmichael met withthe principal, Lara Disney, to discuss Selman’s comment and the page. Carmichaelsaid the principal suggested she print off a copy of the school’snondiscrimination policy, which she did and left on Selman’s desk.

The next day, March 5, Carmichael said Selman sarcasticallythanked her for the policy, saying it supported Selman’s point and that the matterwas not up for discussion. Selman informed the students she had deleted therelationships page.

Selman did not respond to requests for comment.

District spokeswoman Devra Ashby, however, said the page wascut because of a photo of a different couple.

“Palmer High School was going to run, per the studentsrequest, a page on relationships,” Ashby said. “The student photographers hadgone out to take photos relating to relationships. There was a lot of PDA[physical display of affection] and the page was pulled because of the PDA,which is against school policy. Several photos came back depicting PDA.”

Toribio said he has been disenrolled from the yearbook class. On Monday, Selmanreportedly told Carmichael she was disenrolled from the class and she needed togo to the office. Disney said Carmichael was not disenrolled but that was an option,Carmichael wrote in an email.

School board policy states students shall refrain from“excessive physical display of affection” in school buildings, on schoolgrounds and other district property.

“In regard to student free expression, we have a couple ofboard policies that state the publication adviser or distribution supervisorshall be responsible that the publication furthers the educational mission,”Ashby said. “We also have district funds that are tied to the yearbookpublication and because of that it is the adviser who has basically the finalsay on yearbook choices.”

Colorado’s Student Free Expression Law states students havethe right to exercise freedom of speech unless that speech is libelous, obsceneor presents a clear and present danger of the violation of lawful school rules.

Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMontesaid the law overrides any district policy.

“The district can’t provide fewer rights to students,”LoMonte said. “The legislature made a purposefully high threshold. Showingcouples just holding hands cannot justify inciting unlawful behavior.”

Ashby said the page was originally pulled because of anothercouple kissing and that the photo of the lesbian couple could be incorporatedin a “diversity” page. According to Carmichael and Toribio, there was no photo of a couplekissing, just a photo of a couple appearing as if they may kiss but neveractually touching.

The district ombudsman and equal employment opportunityoffice is investigating the situation and discrimination complaints, Ashbysaid.

After the students again complained to Disney, Carmichael and Toribio said Selman came up with a replacement page.

The staff was reportedly given a sheet of paperdescribing a new “diversity” page. According to a copy of the assignment provided by Carmichael, the page would feature no PDA and would highlight various demographic groups. A list of suggestions included Jews, Muslims, jocks, Asians, heterosexuals and homosexuals.

“When someone asked if we could add more minorities to her[Selman’s] list, she said no,” Carmichael said. “The girl asked me what sort ofcaptions should go with the photo but there were to be no names, but labels.There’s not a snowflake in hell’s chance that you’re going to catch me going ona racially discriminatory manhunt.”

Carmichael said she, along with three other students, walkedout of class in protest. The students were handed discipline referrals whenthey entered the principal’s office.

Disney told Carmichael to miss yearbook on Thursday out offear for her safety, Carmichael said.

“This is a problem of discrimination and retaliation, notsafety,” Carmichael said.

Carmichael and Toribiowere both encouraged drop the yearbook class from their schedules, Carmichaelsaid. Ashby declined to comment on the claim.

Selman later deleted four spreads of Toribio’s work and reassignedhis pages to other students, Toribio said.

“She deleted the templates, stories and photos,” Carmichaelsaid. “Now, she won’t let me do anything. She makes the assignments. She’sretaliating against all the kids that went to the principal.”

Carmichael said last year’s book featured several student’skissing affectionately and this book had so such PDA.

Ashby said the situation is under investigation and declinedfurther comment.

Carmichael said the students want all deleted pages returnedas previously designed or five parents will seek legal action on their behalf.