Mark Grimm

 

Can We Censor Sexy? Colorado Yearbook Photo Raises Big Questions.

Sydney Spies

Free speech and the photo.

A Colorado high school yearbook committee has rejected a sexy photo for a senior portrait claiming it would be inappropriate. The senior, Sydney Spies, says the photo is “artistic” and reflects who she is — an aspiring model. 

The case is complicated even further by a Colorado law that states public school students have free speech and press rights and that “no expression contained in a student publication, whether or not such publication is school-sponsored, shall be subject to prior restraint.”

Yearbook committee members, all students, say the administration had nothing to do with the rejection. Spies says there was interference. In either case, the yearbook committee is on shaky ground. The Durango Herald reported yearbook editor Tevan Trujillo, said, “We are an award-winning yearbook. We don’t need to diminish the quality with something that can be seen as unprofessional.” The committee will allow the portrait in the book as an advertisement, provided Spies kicks in $300. So the photo is only “unprofessional” if it doesn’t come with a check.

The yearbook is not a typical private sector entity like the daily newspaper. It is essentially “owned” by all the students and, of course, by the taxpayers footing the bill for the education.

This is not principally about what you think of the photo. People have every right to their opinion that the photo is over the top. But Spies is 18 and the real question is, “Do people have the right to impose their view on someone else’s submission?” What if the situation was reversed? Though editors do have discretion, is it sensible that the photo is inappropriate in one part of the book and not in another?

Is this another case of the public education culture trying to impose its view of the world on everyone else? Does this incident underscore the arbitrary nature of editorial control?

These questions speak to the larger social issues in America’s culture war. Are we persistently mindful what role the media and our schools play in that debate? We should be.

The writer is a former TV anchor and current Siena media professor.
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