Censorship of yearbook photo allows school to profit
Sydney Spies is an 18-year-old senior at Durango High School in Colorado. She aspires to be a model and wanted to add her senior yearbook photo to her portfolio.
The school’s yearbook is a product of student labor. It is staffed by journalism and media students who, under the rules of the school, have the final say in it’s content. The student staff rejected Sydney’s senior photo as inappropriate. She submitted a second photo that, likewise, was deemed unacceptable. Sydney and her mother claim censorship of her yearbook photo and are considering legal action.
Colorado has what is called a “Student Free Expression Law” that prohibits prior restraint. A prior review process means that an adviser or school principal has final approval over content. The editorial board of the yearbook consisted of seniors with full authority over content. The law (22-1-120) reads in part:
Rights of free expression for public school students
(1) The general assembly declares that students of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press, and no expression contained in a student publication, whether or not such publication is school-sponsored, shall be subject to prior restraint except for the types of expression described in subsection (3) of this section. This section shall not prevent the advisor from encouraging expression which is consistent with high standards of English and journalism.
. . . . . . . .
3) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to authorize the publication or distribution by students of the following:
(a) Expression which is obscene;
(b) Expression which is libelous, slanderous, or defamatory under state law;
(c) Expression which is false as to any person who is not a public figure or involved in a matter of public concern; or
(d) Expression which creates a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts, the violation of lawful school regulations, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school or which violates the rights of others to privacy or that threatens violence to property or persons.
Sydney and her mother appeared on the Today Show. She told the host that “I honestly think the picture describes who I am. I’m an outgoing person and I really do think it’s artistic.” Miki Spies commented that her daughter’s photo is “stunning.” She fully supports Sydney “spreading her wings.”
The school offered a compromise. For $300 she could buy an ad in the back of the yearbook that would include the photo. Does this seem hypocritical to you? What difference does it make where the photo is placed in the yearbook? If it’s included, doesn’t that insinuate that it has the approval of the school? Should it be censored at all? You can judge for yourself since the photos Sydney submitted are posted here.