When photos of a high school walkout to protest the “Don’t Say Gay” law appeared in a yearbook, the Seminole County School Board wanted to cover them up but scrapped the plan after a public backlash.
Lyman High School students held the walkout in March holding rainbow flags and a “love is love” sign, MSN reported. A recent graduate, Madi Koesler, captured the images during the protest.
"These are my photos and I think the students should be able to see them because taking away these photos is silencing their voices," Koesler told wesh.com. "This was a protest that wasn't met with much resistance by the administration and we were easily able to take pictures of the kids in the courtyard. They were celebrated; they were chanting."
The school board wanted to put stickers over the photos, but voted 5-0 to not censor the photos after yearbook staffers, advocates and other public speakers said doing so would “erase a moment in Lyman High School’s history and stifle free speech.”
“It is silencing the LGBTQ-plus community and silencing the journalistic community,” said Sara Ward, a Lyman High student who worked on the yearbook.
Instead, an alternative sticker will be placed on the page explaining that the protest was not sponsored by the school and was student-led, according to MSN.
Amy Pennock, the school board chair, and other board members said they would purchase the new stickers that wouldn’t cover the yearbook staff’s work.
“We all make mistakes ... We own up to it, and we try to do what we can to fix it,” said Abby Sanchez, the school board’s vice-chair. “As students, I am proud of you for bringing it to our attention.”
When the Florida Scholastic Press Association first heard that the school board planned on censoring the photos, it released a statement objecting to the decision, saying that it’s a journalist’s job to not only report facts but to act as “gatekeepers of information” to record history as it happens.
“Instead of punishing these journalists for the work they did accurately covering the walkout that happened on the school’s campus, Michael Hunter [the principal] and the Seminole County School Board should be encouraging students and providing them authentic opportunities to report on the lives around them in a safe and protected environment embracing the freedoms of the First Amendment,” FSPA wrote in a press release.
Superintendent Serita Beamon said covering the content was the “best way” to comply with the board policy since the section didn’t make it clear that the protest was student-led, MSN reported.
“I want to be clear to each and every student that this was not about the Lyman High School administration looking to try and target any student, to try and silence any voice,” she said. “This instead is a situation where there was an issue that was not caught earlier in the required review by the administration.”
Students pointed out that yearbooks at Hagerty and Oviedo high schools also had sections mentioning protests against the “Don’t Say Gay” law but were not censored.
There has been much public outcry ever since the Parental Rights in Education, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was introduced. The law, which goes into effect in July, bans classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3, but is so loosely worded that it could include any grade level.