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Put it in writing, and then cross your fingers


After reading about the yearbook craziness in Amherst, N.H., today, I’ve been stewing over the situation. While I’m reminded of the importance of having detailed publications policies, I’m also scared to learn how quickly a school board might work to change those policies on a whim.

Here’s the short version of the story: The Souhegan High School yearbook staff is under fire for including portraits of two students charged in connection with a murder. Some folks in the community, including family of the murder victim, consider this to be insensitive and inappropriate. It’s possible that these outraged community members are unaware of the historical value of the book as a record of school attendees during a given time period, or of the fact that both students were still receiving school services from SHS.

It’s bad enough that the yearbook staff has to face this criticism at a time when students should be enjoying the finished product and filling autograph pages in the back. What’s worse is that the school district is “reexamining” its yearbook policy based on the situation.

What can we learn from this craziness?
(1) Somehow, community members consider themselves the yearbook’s target audience, despite the fact that they do not attend the local high school and do not purchase these yearbooks. What can we do to educate our communities and help them see student publications as geared toward a student audience? The articles online make no mention of actual students being offended that their classmates appear alongside them in the portrait section.

(2) If you’re doing the right thing, stand by it. The apology issued by the superintendent and principal sends the message that the yearbook staff was wrong to include the student portraits. This hurts the program’s credibility and its students. They set out to create a complete, accurate historical record in accordance with existing publications policies. That’s cause for celebration, not apology.

(3) Even those with policies on file aren’t safe. This is censorship in disguise. If the school board “reexamines” this situation and forces change, the students lose. STUDENTS should be the ones determining the specifics behind the yearbook portrait policy and all other content decisions.

I hope students are there at tonight’s board meeting, and I hope someone pats them on the back for working to create the best possible yearbook at SHS.

I’ll be crossing my fingers as I follow this story and the fate of the yearbook publications policy on file.

Sarah Nichols, MJE

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