WAVERLY, Neb. (AP) — School administrators have halted distribution of a Nebraska high school yearbook in part because of a story that honors a journalism teacher for how she dealt with the death of her son only 96 minutes after his birth.
The district objects to photos of the baby that accompany the story in the 2018-19 Waverly High School yearbook, saying they violate a policy against memorializing students or staff who have died, the Lincoln Journal Star reported Thursday. It’s the latest example of officials blocking actions by students who want to mark such deaths.
The Waverly case centers on teacher and yearbook adviser Erin Konecky, who was named the state’s 2019 Mother of the Year for her work to make sure parents of babies who die during or soon after birth receive cards of condolence, rather than congratulations, from state agencies.
The yearbook story was written by Konecky’s students as a surprise for her, and was accompanied by photos of Konecky and her family, a photo of the condolence card she designed and one of her baby, Spencer, before he died.
Administrators have ordered the books reprinted. The order won’t change the article, but will pull several photos, including those of the baby.
Superintendent Cory Worrell acknowledged the story isn’t about a deceased student or staff member, which is spelled out in the district’s official policy as prohibited, but said the photos “give the impression it was a memorial.” And that, he said, violates the spirit of the policy.
School officials say the policies exist to avoid glorifying death and to avoid distracting from school events or publications. But such policies have drawn criticism at school districts that enforce them across the country, including several in Nebraska. In 2017, Irving Middle School faced backlash after pulling its yearbooks to remove a memorial honoring a student who had been hit by a car and died several years before her expected graduation.
Students who worked on the Waverly yearbook say administrators there have overstepped.
“My stance was I really believed my book was done correctly,” said Valerie Gerlach, who was yearbook editor last year and is now a college student. “And it was done with a lot of heart.”
Gerlach and Shiloh Roth, the current yearbook editor and co-author of the Konecky story, say it’s not fair to arbitrarily expand the policy banning memorials to a story about the achievements of the yearbook adviser. They’ve contacted the Student Press Law Center to discuss possible violations of students’ free speech rights.
Worrell insists the district isn’t violating student’s constitutional rights, saying, “School officials can still make determinations on what the content is in school-based newspapers and yearbooks.
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