Recently at John W. North there has been a growing controversy between the Aurora Yearbook staff and the senior class over the yearbook staff’s decision to end senior quotes for the 2021 graduating class. A petition has been circulating social media that now has approximately 700 signatures of community members and students, as of Feb. 20, promoting the reversal of this decision. There have been multiple meetings between the yearbook staff and the United Student League (USL) about coming to a compromise where senior quotes would still exist along with a plan of safety net for the yearbook students which has since been reached.
Yearbook staffers along with every student journalist in the United States have to follow sets of laws dictating what they can print and what they can choose not to print. In the 1986 Supreme Court case of Bethel School District v. Fraser, it was decided that the freedom of speech given to students in a previous decision, does not protect obscene or vulgar speech. This decision is applied to student journalists and along with two other Supreme Court cases forms the Tinker, Fraser and Hazelwood Standards. Student journalists can write and publish like any other journalistic entity unless the material falls under the categories of being obscene or vulgar, creating threats or could cause substantial disruption.
The yearbook staff has raised alarms about past senior quotes that can be categorized as obscene and vulgar that have seemingly violated these rulings, specifically the Fraser Standard. If taken to court over these published senior quotes, the yearbook students themselves could be held legally responsible for their part in the publishing process. The staff has estimated that only around 50% to 60% of submitted quotes actually ended up in the yearbook due to inappropriate language or sexual innuendos. Students themselves could be held accountable for these errors in the editing process because legally the yearbook is their work and not the school or district’s responsibility. While there aren’t many prominent cases of this occurring at the high school level, college journalists have been held responsible in similar situations.
California’s Education Code does protect students with the right to petition like many in the senior class have been doing. However student journalists cannot be told what to print by a school or administrative officer. A school employee can’t force any newspaper or yearbook student to include senior quotes, articles or photographs into their publications if they believe it could cause harm or simply out of choice. This is why bodies such as USL and the school administration can’t force the yearbook staff to continue senior quotes.
Since announcing the cancellation of senior quotes the yearbook staff has thrown around the idea of senior quotes coming at a five dollar charge or having longer senior quotes as a type of senior ad. This caused more outrage from students citing that this price tag is unfair to the many low-income students who attend North, while the yearbook staff argued that this amount would ward off students who are simply using the platform as a joke.
“As a senior, I completely understand the sadness of losing so much this year. However, as an editor for the yearbook, I know that not having senior quotes will protect future generations of the Aurora Yearbook Staff. We know this decision is bittersweet, and we wish all seniors would put clean quotes, but it just isn’t this way. As a team, we work incredibly hard to publish the yearbook, and even harder this year. We know that not all the seniors will agree with our decision, but we hope they can at least understand the struggles that the yearbook team has been facing with senior quotes for many years,” said senior Ruby Saavedra.
Seniors have made the argument that this is another way that their senior year has been virtually wiped away. Quotes have long been a tradition at North as well as high schools everywhere. They are a chance for seniors to have their mark on the yearbook in the form of a catchphrase, song lyric or virtually anything.
“All throughout high school, students think about what their senior quote will be, and that is now being taken away from us. Our class has had every single event and activity stripped away from us because of COVID, this just adds to the list,” said senior Alexander Horspool.
After multiple meetings between the two organizations USL has offered to use some of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) budget to provide a new option for seniors this school year. Every senior will be able to have one-eighth of a senior tribute page for free. This page will come with both a space for a message as well as two photos of their choosing available until April 9. Students can use these pages as standard senior tribute pages for themselves, and utilize the message section as a quote, or to congratulate a fellow classmate. An agreement such as this will most likely resolve the problems in previous years with senior quotes because ads will be paid for by USL and not published directly by the yearbook staff. While these aren’t the senior quotes as from years past, the free senior tributes will allow every senior regardless of income level to have a personal stamp in the yearbook.