Can schools refuse to publish a senior photograph for the yearbook?
Feb. 2, 2012
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
The yearbook committee at Durango High School in Durango, Colo., is getting a lesson in the First Amendment.
Seniors at the high school are allowed to submit their own senior photographs for the yearbook, and then a committee of five students reviews them. When aspiring model Sydney Spies submitted her photo, the yearbook committee rejected it, deeming it too racy for the yearbook.
Spies submitted another photo, but it, too, was rejected, and instead of submitting yet another senior picture, she has decided to fight the decision.
She is fighting the school, claiming that it is unconstitutionally censoring her photographs and infringing on her First Amendment right of free expression.
The First Amendment in school is tricky because several Supreme Court cases have decided that while students do have certain free speech rights in school, they are considerably restrained compared with their rights outside school.
But the state has the Colorado Student Free Expression Law, which protects student journalists in school from administrative censorship.
But is this a case of administrative censorship? The review board is not composed of school officials, but students. So the case could be made that this is an issue between students and that the administration has nothing to do with the rejection of the photos.
On the other hand, the five students were given their authority by the school administration, so one could argue that they are serving as the school administration in some small function.
And is the photograph a form of legitimate expression or could it be considered obscene? The Colorado Student Free Expression Law states that students are allowed to exercise freedom of speech, expression and the press as long as it is not in a manner that is obscene, defamatory under state law, or false.
Miki Spies, Sydney’s mother, said to CNN, “She tells me that she has grown tired of seeing all the boring pictures submitted, and she wanted to do something different.” She went on to say, “There’s something wrong when people can’t express themselves in their own yearbook.”
What do you think?
Should the school publish the photograph? Is a senior picture a form of expression? Is the censorship coming from fellow students or the administration? If you were a judge presiding over the case, whom would you side with? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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