Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Some parents are up in arms over photos and captions in this year's Conifer High School (Colorado) yearbook that depict underage drinking and illegal drug use.

There were at least five pages that parents found objectionable. Two pages, labeled "Health - addicted to addictions," included photos showing students holding a bong, drinking from a hose and funnel and exhaling smoke. Alongside the photos were quotes from students, some named, some anonymous, about their drug use. "It makes me feel good," an unnamed senior is quoted as saying about marijuana. "It brings people together. If you smoke with someone, you're chill with them." In another section labeled "Regrets and mistakes" there is a photo of three female students - all identified - holding minor- in-possession tickets they were given by police for underage drinking. The photo caption quoted one of the girls saying, "I wish I wouldn't have told the cops the truth when they asked who had been drinking because they made it sound like they would be easier on us, but they let everyone else walk out the door."

Some parents talked to the yearbook adviser, Amy McTague, last week about her concerns and was disappointed in McTague's response. "She went on about it was the students' First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and we disagreed about that," a parent said. "She has betrayed the trust of this community." McTague, who also teaches junior English, could not be reached for comment Monday, but she sent a letter apologizing to parents. "It wasn't my intent or my students' intent to portray such a negative tone in their attempt to cover all aspects of a students' life and some of the very difficult choices they face," she wrote. "Intent, however, is irrelevant at this point; I understand that," she continued. "My editor and I have discussed at length and have agreed that there was no balance on the pages that are of concern and that some elements are completely inappropriate. These issues detract from the many wonderful things that are included in this book." Interim Principal Pat Termin agreed that mistakes were made. "There were some things . . . that I don't feel that I can defend," she said. "There were some pictures and quotes that I do believe have crossed the line." Students can return their yearbook to get a refund or to have the offending text covered with stickers featuring new captions and quotes. The "Health - addicted to addictions" pages will be glued together. [source] Cute solution. Just hope they don't sniff the glue!

Time for an afternoon lesson on the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Unfortunately for Amy McTague, the first amendment only provides her the right to express herself without interference or constraint by the government. It does not give her (or anyone else) the right to say or print whatever the hell they want in a high school yearbook. The first amendment does not afford members of the media any special rights or privileges not afforded to citizens in general. While there may not be governmental boundaries with freedom of speech/press (except when engaging in and/or promoting illegal activities), there are societal boundaries, like the responsibility of her job and/or protecting minors from obscene/questionable material. It's a sticky situation. I mean seriously, what the hell was she thinking? The ramifications of one of these pictures could be life- altering. For example, suppose one of those students wants to run for office. That's obviously not something you think about while posing next to a bong in a high school yearbook but it might come back to kick you in the ass during your campaign - at age 30! So next time you want to pull out the first amendment in a questionable situation, contact your attorney or you might end up without your pension.

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