School Climate & Safety

Fla. High School to Cover Yearbook Photos of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Student Protests

By Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel — May 10, 2022 3 min read
Marchers wave U.S. and rainbow flags and signs as they walk at the St. Pete Pier in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, March 12, 2022 during a rally and march to protest the controversial "Don't say gay" bill passed by Florida's Republican-led legislature and now on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A Seminole County high school is covering up yearbook photos of students protesting Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill, a move that the publication’s staffers call censorship.

Lyman High School’s yearbook features photos of students holding rainbow flags and a “love is love” sign during a walkout protest in March.

But school officials delayed distributing the yearbooks Monday and determined that certain pictures and descriptions “did not meet school board policy,” Michael Hunter, the school’s principal, said in a recorded message.

“Rather than reprinting the yearbook at substantial cost and delay, we have elected to cover the material that is out of compliance with board policy so that yearbooks can be distributed as soon as possible,” he said.

Danielle Pomeranz, the yearbook’s faculty adviser, said she was told to check into placing stickers over photos and captions of the walkout protest.

Students who worked on the yearbook have launched a social media campaign called #stopthestickers.

“This really shouldn’t be happening because all we did as journalists was document what was happening at our school on our campus,” said Skye Tiedemann, one of the yearbook’s editors-in-chief. “To have that covered up isn’t right. ... This is censorship.”

Hunter’s message didn’t explain which material in the yearbook was objectionable or why, but he said distribution was delayed to ensure the yearbook meets all Seminole County School Board policies, “particularly as it pertains to non-school sponsored events contained in school publications.”

“Unfortunately, the pictures and descriptions that depicted this event did not meet school board policy and were not caught earlier in the review process,” he said.

Michael Lawrence, a district spokesman, said school officials decided to cover the photos and captions because they thought the descriptions gave the impression the walkout was a school-sponsored event when it was not.

See Also

Reading & Literacy High School Paper Publishes Article on Student in Porn Industry After Censorship Fight
Sasha Jones, April 30, 2019
3 min read

The yearbook includes a page highlighting the school’s gay-straight alliance club, which met board policy and will not be covered, he said.

About 600 yearbooks were ordered, and it would cost about $45,000 to have them reprinted, Pomeranz said.

Earlier this year, students across Florida walked out of class to protest HB 1557, officially titled Parental Rights in Education but known as the “don’t say gay” bill by opponents. The law bans classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” for grades kindergarten through three or in a manner that is not “age appropriate.”

Opponents said the law is vague and will have a chilling effect on the discussion of LGBTQ topics in schools.

Madi Koesler, a college volunteer who took the photos, said censoring the yearbook would validate those fears.

“They are having their voices taken away from them,” said Koesler, a student at Seminole State College and a recent Lyman High School graduate. “As someone who took the photo, it is heartbreaking to see this. This is exactly what they were protesting, and now it is happening to them. It is so disappointing.”

School officials didn’t raise concerns about coverage of a student demonstration published in the yearbook in 2018, Koesler said. That event expressed support for victims of the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 students and staff.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1988 landmark case that educators could prevent the publication of articles about teenage pregnancy and divorce in a school-sponsored newspaper. Justices wrote, “A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school.”

See Also

Curriculum 7 Signs That Your School Newspaper Risks Censorship
Catherine Gewertz, October 17, 2019
2 min read

Educators can exercise editorial control in school-sponsored publications as long as their actions are “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns,” the justices wrote.

But Clay Calvert, a University of Florida law and journalism professor, said he thinks blocking the photos could raise First Amendment issues for the district.

“I don’t see any legitimate teaching concerns here,” Calvert said. “The speech that is being censored is political speech that is at the heart of the First Amendment.”

Copyright (c) 2022, Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
How Whole-Child Student Data Can Strengthen Family Connections
Learn how district leaders can use these actionable strategies to increase family engagement in their student’s education and boost their academic achievement.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
The School to Workforce Gap: How Are Schools Setting Students Up For Life & Lifestyle Success?
Hear from education and business leaders on how schools are preparing students for their leap into the workforce.
Content provided by Find Your Grind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety ‘Their Vote Matters’: Schools Provide Training to Students on Working the Polls
“We just want to make sure that our youth ... know that they’re important, their vote matters, their vote counts, they can get involved."
Jenny Roberts, The Morning Call
4 min read
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Amy Shortell/The Morning Call via TNS
School Climate & Safety A Parkland Dad Pleads for Action on School Safety
A father whose daughter was killed in the 2018 mass shooting spoke at a summit the day after the gunman was sentenced.
3 min read
A women in a black t-shirt lifts small painted stones out of a cardboard box, placing them on the ground at a memorial covered in flowers in front of a large white masonry sign that says "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
Suzanne Devine Clark, an elementary school art teacher, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2019, one year after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School Climate & Safety A School Safety Challenge: Keeping Crowds Secure Under the Glare of Friday Night Lights
Districts aim to keep students and spectators safe during sporting events, which draw large crowds to a less predictable environment.
5 min read
A police officer stands between rows of caution tape outside of a white high school football stadium that is brightly lit against the night sky.
A Tulsa Police officer films the area outside of the McLain High School football stadium in Tulsa, Okla., after a shooting during a Sept. 30 football game.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP
School Climate & Safety What School Is Like for LGBTQ Students, By the Numbers
Here are survey statistics on harassment, support, and fears experienced by LGBTQ students during pandemic-era schooling.
4 min read
Image of a student with rainbow straps on their backpack.
iSTock/Getty