The Seminole County School Board scrapped a plan Tuesday to put stickers over yearbook photos of students protesting against Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill, responding to a public backlash against the move.
The school board voted 5-0 not to obscure the photos and captions of a walkout protest featured in Lyman High School’s yearbook.
Instead, an alternative sticker will be placed on the page that explains the protest was student led and not sponsored by the school.
Amy Pennock, the school board chair, and other board members said they would purchase the new stickers that wouldn’t cover the yearbook staff’s work.
“We all make mistakes. … We own up to it, and we try to do what we can to fix it,” said Abby Sanchez, the school board’s vice chair. “As students, I am proud of you for bringing it to our attention.”
Yearbook staffers, LGBTQ advocates and other public speakers told the board that censoring the yearbook would erase a moment in Lyman High School’s history and stifle free speech.
“It is silencing the LGBTQ-plus community and silencing the journalistic community,” said Sara Ward, a Lyman High student who worked on the yearbook.
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Danielle Pomeranz, the yearbook’s faculty adviser, told the board her students were only doing their job of documenting an important event that happened on campus. She said she thinks the yearbook can still be distributed to students by the end of the week. Students were supposed to start receiving their yearbooks on Monday.
The photos in question show students holding rainbow flags and a “love is love” sign. Accompanying captions include quotes from students sharing their views on the legislation and why they participated in the protest.
Superintendent Serita Beamon said the section didn’t make clear that the protest was student led, and covering the content was viewed as the best way to comply with board policy and get the yearbook to students in a timely fashion.
“I want to be clear to each and every student that this was not about the Lyman High School administration looking to try and target any student, to try and silence any voice,” she said. “This instead is a situation where there was an issue that was not caught earlier in the required review by the administration.”
Students told the board yearbooks at Hagerty and Oviedo high schools also have sections in their yearbooks mentioning protests against the “don’t say gay” bill, but those publications were not censored.
Students across the state walked out of class to protest HB 1557, officially titled Parental Rights in Education but called the “don’t say gay” bill by opponents. The legislation bans classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in grades kindergarten through three or in a manner that is not “age appropriate.”