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.
Facts: Cars 108
Graphic: Wood TV