A Florida school board has decided that photos depicting student-led protests against an anti-LGBTQ law in the state will not be censored from a high school yearbook, reversing an action from the county superintendent.
A page of the Lyman High School yearbook, located within the Seminole County School District, showcased how students left classrooms earlier this year to voice their collective opposition against HB 1557. Opponents of the legislation called it the “Don’t Say Gay” to highlight how it stifled conversation in classrooms.
The bill, which has since passed and become law (though it is not yet enforced), bans teachers from discussing any topics related to sexual and gender identity in younger elementary-aged classrooms, and puts heavy restrictions on lessons for older students, requiring discussions to be “age appropriate” — a vague definition that could result in costly litigation from anti-LGBTQ parents who believe their children’s schools aren’t in compliance if any lesson includes such discussions.
Because the images in the Lyman High School yearbook depicted an event that wasn’t school-sanctioned, Superintendent Serita Beamon had initially planned to plaster stickers on that page in every copy of the yearbook, effectively making it impossible for anyone to view the images on that page.
During a school board meeting on Wednesday, Beamon tried to defend her actions, saying they were not meant to censor student voices, but rather to communicate the district’s official stance that speech, which causes “substantial disruption” and “interferes with school activities or the educational process” is not condoned.
Students vehemently disagreed with Beamon’s viewpoint, and ultimately, the school board sided with them.
Initially, the school board appeared ready to uphold Beamon’s decision. But their minds were changed after testimony from students at Lyman High School, who pointed out that the yearbook is both published by students and funded by them, too.
“Despite being school-owned and the technicalities of school policy, we can not take away that student right by not supporting the student press and student community as a whole,” yearbook editor Sara Ward told the board.
Ward also noted that a sticker covering up an entire page documenting what had happened during the school year would be “silencing the LGBTQ plus community, and silencing the journalistic community.”
Due to the students’ concerns and arguments, the board voted 5-0 to allow the page to be included in the yearbook without the proposed censorship. A small sticker from the district, however, explaining that the protest was not sanctioned by the school would be allowed, the board added.
Directing her comments to students, board member Karen Almond commended them for fighting against censorship of images depicting the peaceful protest from earlier this year.
“We all make mistakes. … We own up to it, and we try to do what we can to fix it,” Almond said. “As students, I am proud of you for bringing it to our attention.”