Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yearbooks mutilated to remove student comment

June 15 2010, Comox Valley Echo

A Lake Trail student has been quite literally cut out of this year's yearbook.
School board officials told the Echo that Grade 10 student Brandon Armstrong's photo was chopped out of the yearbook due to a "hurtful and untrue" comment in his bio.
Because of that comment, scissors were taken to 299 of the 300 yearbooks produced to remove Armstrong's photo.
Just one yearbook has Armstrong's picture: his own. Beneath it is the comment that caused the kafuffle: his favourite Lake Trail Memory was "when Mrs. Carpenter spent all our money on a new fence instead of new textbooks." Lori Carpenter is the school's principal.
Armstrong said it "blew my mind" when he found out he'd been snipped.
"It kind of sucked," he said. "I was excited for the yearbook and I'm excited to keep it for a long time. It kind of sucks, for sure."
He said he included that comment as his favourite memory both because he thought it was true and also because he thought it was "kind of funny."
School officials obviously didn't think it was very funny, while assistant superintendent Sherry Elwood said it was absolutely untrue -- the principal had no part in the decision to install the fence, she said.
Elwood said the comment was removed both because it was untrue and because it was targeted at a specific staff member.
"I don't believe that's censorship," she said. "That's about you being responsible for what you put in print under your name as being true. That's really what it's about."
Elwood admitted that the teacher responsible for the yearbook should have caught the comment in the editing process and removed it at that time if there was a concern.
She said he was "mortified" over the inclusion of the comment and removing it with scissors was a thoughtful, measured decision.
But Armstrong's mother, Sherri Kennedy, felt the entire incident could have been dealt with in a much more reasonable manner.
Elwood noted that school officials did try to cover the comment with black felt, but it was ineffective with the glossy paper the yearbook is printed on.
Kennedy would like to know why they had to cut his entire picture out rather than just taking the scissors to the comment.
"It's not just that one line that's cut out," she said. "They could have at least left the picture in.
"It's kind of unfair -- not just to my son, but to everybody -- that it's not there."
Beyond that, the school included an insert in the yearbook to explain the gaping hole.
It states that "one student made a comment in his bio that was both hurtful to another person and which was not based on truth." In bold, it states: "I will not allow anything to be published that is hurtful and untrue."
"It makes it look like he said some kind of swearing or something really bad about another person, bad enough to take out his whole profile, including his picture," said Kennedy.
"Parents would look at it and think this child had done something worse than what he actually did."
Elwood said that had the comment been targeted at the school district, which did make the decision to install the fence, it would "probably be a different issue."
Kennedy said she'd like to see all of the yearbooks reprinted, but was told by school officials that would not happen because it would cost upward of $3,000 and the money is not available.
The yearbook is the last one that will include a Grade Ten class, of which Armstrong was a part, because the school's grade configuration changes next year.
"This boy is permanently removed from this piece of history at the school," said PAC chair Yolande Munroe.

Overreacted much? Five years from now nobody is going to give a damn about the comment, but everyone is going to notice one of their classmates has been deleted from the yearbook. Why didn't this get edited out after it was submitted, or during the design and layout process, or at the printers? And most interesting of all, the Streisand Effect is now in place: because the administrators wanted this removed, it's now all over the Internet.

Cutting out a student's photo from a keepsake because of a sarcastic comment is petty and vindictive, and is guaranteed to cause more ill-will towards the principal than if she had let it go. A yearbook bio is neither a scholarly report nor a piece of journalism and she is at no risk of libel. If was going to be redacted, why not buy Avery sticker sheets to cover the comment? And perhaps the most interesting question... what happened to the image on the other side of the page?

And oh yeah, the yearbooks were paid for by the students. Hope they got what they paid for.