Arkansas students vow to fight school over censorship of gay student’s yearbook profile

By David Ferguson
Friday, March 14, 2014 11:39 EDT
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Student with head in hands via Shutterstock
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A high school in Sheridan, Arkansas is attempting to censor the yearbook profile of a gay student because he chose to openly discuss his orientation.

According to the Student Press Law Center, high school junior Taylor Ellis was among six students slated to receive special commendation in the school’s 2014 yearbook. Ellis chose to use his profile page to tell his “coming out” story.

School officials, citing possible negative repercussions against Ellis, have decided to nix the profile feature for the six students altogether.

Student Hannah Bruner — assistant editor of Sheridan High’s yearbook, the Yellowjacket — told the Law Center, “I personally I do not think there’s a risk of that because everyone in the school already knows. It’s not a secret.”

“He did come out last year,” said Bruner, who wrote the profile about Ellis’ experience, “and he did it over a social networking site so everyone knows already, and the story, like I said, is talking about how accepting everyone has been toward him.”

Bruner said that she is unsure which officials in the school administration objected to the profile or why because they will only communicate with the Yellowjacket staff through the students’ faculty advisor. She said that she has repeatedly tried to raise the issue with the school principal Rodney Williams, but has been told every time that Williams is not available.

Ellis, for his part, told the Law Center’s Lydia Coutré that he doesn’t understand why the school even has an issue with publishing his story.

“I think that it’s a good thing for people like me to see that it’s OK to be openly gay in school,” he said. “(The principal) said that it was personal, but it’s really not that personal because everybody knows. It’s not that big of a deal…It’s just showing other people that it’s OK to be who you are.”

The principal reportedly met with Ellis to try and talk him out of publishing his story, telling the teen he could be beaten up or bullied. Bruner, however, said that it’s school officials who are doing the bullying.

“They don’t really care about the law, and they’re sending a message to the whole student body and they’re just censoring all of us,” she said.

Under 1995′s Arkansas Student Publications Act, state courts ruled that students ultimately have final editorial say over their publications and that school officials may not dictate or censor those publications in any way.

Coutré wrote, “Administrators may only censor student publications that are obscene, libelous, constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy or incite students to commit unlawful acts or those against school policy are ‘not authorized’ under the act.”

The deadline for the Yellowjacket to go to the printer, said Bruner, is Friday. This year, the yearbook might be a little late, though.

“I’m going to fight this,” she said.

[image of student with head in hands via Shutterstock.com]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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