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Editors: Colo. yearbook adviser spikes feature on lesbian couple, deletes pages
Lawyer says move may contradict state law
March 12, 2012

COLORADO — The editor of the Palmer High School yearbook claims her adviser censored a photograph of a lesbian couple, then deleted several pages of work in retaliation against students who fought the decision.

Retrospect Editor-in-Chief Anna Carmichael said students have been in an ongoing dispute with adviser Angie Selman over a “relationships” page. Carmichael said the page is about relationships in high school, specifically focusing on a lesbian couple who have been dating for four years. According to Carmichael, Selman cut the page because it was “morally offensive.”

Student Life Editor Coco Toribio was working on the page when Selman told him to “cut the gay couple, or I’ll cut the page,” according to both Carmichael and Toribio.

Carmichael met with the principal, Lara Disney, to discuss Selman’s comment and the page. Carmichael said the principal suggested she print off a copy of the school’s nondiscrimination policy, which she did and left on Selman’s desk.

The next day, March 5, Carmichael said Selman sarcastically thanked her for the policy, saying it supported Selman’s point and that the matter was not up for discussion. Selman informed the students she had deleted the relationships page.

Selman did not respond to requests for comment.

District spokeswoman Devra Ashby, however, said the page was cut because of a photo of a different couple.

“Palmer High School was going to run, per the students request, a page on relationships,” Ashby said. “The student photographers had gone out to take photos relating to relationships. There was a lot of PDA [physical display of affection] and the page was pulled because of the PDA, which is against school policy. Several photos came back depicting PDA.”

Toribio said he has been disenrolled from the yearbook class. On Monday, Selman reportedly told Carmichael she was disenrolled from the class and she needed to go to the office. Disney said Carmichael was not disenrolled but that was an option, Carmichael wrote in an email.

School board policy states students shall refrain from “excessive physical display of affection” in school buildings, on school grounds and other district property.

“In regard to student free expression, we have a couple of board policies that state the publication adviser or distribution supervisor shall be responsible that the publication furthers the educational mission,” Ashby said. “We also have district funds that are tied to the yearbook publication and because of that it is the adviser who has basically the final say on yearbook choices.”

Colorado’s Student Free Expression Law states students have the right to exercise freedom of speech unless that speech is libelous, obscene or presents a clear and present danger of the violation of lawful school rules.

Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte said the law overrides any district policy.

“The district can’t provide fewer rights to students,” LoMonte said. “The legislature made a purposefully high threshold. Showing couples just holding hands cannot justify inciting unlawful behavior.”

Ashby said the page was originally pulled because of another couple kissing and that the photo of the lesbian couple could be incorporated in a “diversity” page. According to Carmichael and Toribio, there was no photo of a couple kissing, just a photo of a couple appearing as if they may kiss but never actually touching.

The district ombudsman and equal employment opportunity office is investigating the situation and discrimination complaints, Ashby said.

After the students again complained to Disney, Carmichael and Toribio said Selman came up with a replacement page.

The staff was reportedly given a sheet of paper describing a new “diversity” page. According to a copy of the assignment provided by Carmichael, the page would feature no PDA and would highlight various demographic groups. A list of suggestions included Jews, Muslims, jocks, Asians, heterosexuals and homosexuals.

“When someone asked if we could add more minorities to her [Selman’s] list, she said no,” Carmichael said. “The girl asked me what sort of captions should go with the photo but there were to be no names, but labels. There’s not a snowflake in hell’s chance that you’re going to catch me going on a racially discriminatory manhunt.”

Carmichael said she, along with three other students, walked out of class in protest. The students were handed discipline referrals when they entered the principal’s office.

Disney told Carmichael to miss yearbook on Thursday out of fear for her safety, Carmichael said.

“This is a problem of discrimination and retaliation, not safety,” Carmichael said.

Carmichael and Toribio were both encouraged drop the yearbook class from their schedules, Carmichael said. Ashby declined to comment on the claim.

Selman later deleted four spreads of Toribio’s work and reassigned his pages to other students, Toribio said.

“She deleted the templates, stories and photos,” Carmichael said. “Now, she won’t let me do anything. She makes the assignments. She’s retaliating against all the kids that went to the principal.”

Carmichael said last year’s book featured several student’s kissing affectionately and this book had so such PDA.

Ashby said the situation is under investigation and declined further comment.

Carmichael said the students want all deleted pages returned as previously designed or five parents will seek legal action on their behalf.

By Emily Summars, SPLC staff writer

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