More Yearbook Ethics: Pregnant Seniors, Clueless Administrators

Deonna and Kimberly: fit for classes, unfit for the yearbook?

Deonna and Kimberly: fit for classes, unfit for the yearbook?

It was only a couple of weeks ago that an Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz featured the decision of North Carolina’s Wheatmore High School to disallow the yearbook photo a beaming unwed senior took with her baby, after the school unwisely opened the can of ethical worms by inviting students to include meaningful “props” in their pictures. Of that controversy, I wrote,

“Society sends foolishly mixed messages about unwed and teen pregnancies already, and a student using her yearbook photo to proclaim her pride in single-motherhood would indeed appear to be teen pregnancy advocacy. See? She’s happy! She graduated! She has an adorable baby! You can have one of these adorable living dolls too! “Don’t get pregnant before you’re legal, married and have a degree, but if you do have a baby, we’ll be glad to let you display it like it was your winning 4H project!” makes no sense, not that the whole “bring a prop” plan was much better.”

Now the predictable variation has raised its troublesome head. In White Cloud, Michigan, high school students Deonna Harris and Kimberly Haney were told by high school administrators that their pictures were unfit for publication in this year’s school yearbook, because they are pregnant. They were offered the chance to be shown from the neckt up—you know, like they used to show actresses  on TV sitcoms from the waist up when a a star’s  pregnancy couldn’t be worked into the script—but the students refused.

The “logic” of Barry Seabrook, White Cloud schools superintendent, was that 1) allowing the full body photos would constitute a violation of Michigan’s official policy that the school’s sex education program should be based on abstinence; 2) some parents would make trouble, and 3)  the inclusion of the pictures in the yearbook might promote teen pregnancy. Not one of these makes logical sense, is fair, or just reason to stigmatize the girls or make them disguise themselves.

The problem with Caitlin Tiller’s photo was that her baby was volitionally featured with a beaming teen mom: there was no other way the photo could be seen as other than an advertisement and endorsement for teen pregnancy. That’s not true of Deonna and Kimberly: these photos represent them and how they looked when they graduated. If the school wasn’t going to stop them from attending class in their present state, it is ridiculous to argue that they shouldn’t be shown in the yearbook that way. If the school advocates good nutrition and the avoidance of eating disorders, would it ban the photo of an anorexia victim? If an athlete was suspected of using steroids to get big and buff, would the school insist that only his non pumped-up head be shown? Would the assets of a cheerleader whose parents unwisely bought some surgically enhanced breasts be censored?

It’s too bad the “abstinence only” policy is a bust, Barry, but hiding the truth at the expense of two victims of your failure is not an ethical solution, or a solution at all. And I’m sorry that you don’t have the ability, wit and courage to fight off idiotic and meddling parents: perhaps you should consider another line of work. As for promoting teen pregnancy, unless the photos showed the girls beaming as one hand pointed to their bellies while the other hand was formed in a “thumbs up” gesture, it seems as likely as not that such photos would discourage early pregnancies.

The school is dead wrong here, and being unfair to both girls just to avoid complaints from equally unfair parents and to avoid having to answer for its ineffective sex education classes.


Pointer: tgt

Facts: Cars 108

Graphic: Wood TV

16 thoughts on “More Yearbook Ethics: Pregnant Seniors, Clueless Administrators

  1. I guess I’d cut the guy some slack here, Jack. He’s out there in the trenches trying to run a high school and get a few of today’s kids through that awful time of life in one piece. I’m glad our kids are raising our grand children. I have no idea how I’d raise a kid in this world. This guy seems to be trying to discourage kids from having children. A fairly worthwhile effort, as near as I can tell. I suppose headshots in graduation gowns all around would be best, but do kids even wear rented academic gowns for graduation any more? They probably wear their favorite Aeropostale T-shirt. Does the local school photographer show up and shoot everybody down in the cafeteria in a single morning? Are there still school photographers? Are there still yearbooks? Why? Can’t all this be done on instagram or tumblr, whatever they are?

    All I’m saying is high schools today seem to be run by the worst students and the most ill-mannered parents. Remember the kid doing his scripted “rant” in that Texas high school? Maybe we should give this guy a little support. I think he’s more an ethics hero than Angelina Jolie. He’s trying to educate kids.

    Think about it. It seems to me you may even be pulling a Rush-like attack on this Bob Schieffer-like principal.

  2. Pondering, using one of your questions: If the school advocates good nutrition and the avoidance of obesity, would it ban photos of obese students that show more than from the neck up?

    I doubt the yearbook contains photos edited to de-emphasize obesity. I see plenty of young women who are not pregnant, but who are heavier than the two students shown. I reckon that photos of such young women are in yearbooks in abundance, and show more than just the neck up. On that basis, I don’t see enough justification for excluding full body images of the pregnant students.

  3. How about the principal insisted these girls go to a home for unwed mothers until they have their babies and take their classes on-line or in a class at the home? Would that be mis-treating the girls? Unwed teenaged mothers and their children are a terribly serious problem. Might a little bit of shaming and dis-incenting be effective? At least to the other kids at the school? The girls screwed up. Monumentally and for the rest of their and their children’s to be and their parents’ lives.(And I’d have no problem with the father being sent to an unwed father’s home for the duration as well.) Maybe this would be deemed to be mistreatment, but frankly, I’m not at all sure it wouldn’t be vastly preferrable to the irresponsible, subtle, almost criminal endorsement of “baby mommas” in our culture. Is it okay for teenagers to have kids? If it is, sure, let’s put their photos in the yearbook. Heck, let’s have the federal government start funding unwed teenaged mothers’ clubs in all our high schools. They can have a full spread in the activities section of the year book, right in between the audio video club and the national honors society or maybe the biology club.

  4. Personally, I understand fully that the school officials would want to hide these girls’ “condition” from their senior class pictures. Those kids may think, by the cultural non-standards of the present, that they have done something clever, but they will think otherwise soon enough. Nor do the decent kids of that class need to be saddled with the images of some of the sleep-around girls flaunting themselves in a book that, for many, will remain a priceless relic of memorabilia for decades to come. Nor, indeed, do those girls have some inherent right to do this. It’s enough that they were even allowed to stay in that school and graduate.

    • Want to? Sure, I get why they would want to. I get why they would love them to go to school some place else too. But wanting something and saying it’s the right thing to actually do, as you know, are completely different—as in this case.

      • Jack: High school is a special time for all of us. Such schools tend to stand for more than a basic education; important though that is. It also provides (or once did) a basis of principles and of memories of that transition period from child to adult. That is all shattered by the smug faces of a few girls flaunting their “baby bumps” as though it was something to be proud of. That may be all right at Hollywood High, but there’s no need to extend it to other schools where the administrators still understand the need for positive standards. Face photos were good enough in my yearbook and they’re good enough for these “teen moms” as well.

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