It's yearbook season, and any high-schooler or middle-schooler in your life probably got one and filled it eagerly with signatures and goofy notes from their friends--unless they go to Big Bear High, in which case they had to return their book or risk getting arrested. Big Bear High yearbooks contained what federal law considers to be child pornography. In fact, it's a picture from a dance where a couple is getting to second base in the background. But technically, "any visual depiction of a minor 'engaging in sexually explicit conduct' can be considered child pornography." The yearbook team must be very, very disappointed, but this is not the first time a yearbook has been recalled because of some mishap. As a service to future editors, here's a list of pitfalls that have sunk yearbooks in the past. Don't let this happen to you, kids!
Don't post inappropriate photos: This is kind of a no-brainer, but it seems to be one of the biggest reasons yearbooks get the recall. Obviously you're not going to do it on purpose (we hope), but you know, teenagers have pretty lame senses of humor. Like the football players in Bronxville, New York, who "simulated a sexual act." Just don't encourage such behavior with captions like "one time, at football camp." And when a kid does something inappropriate on accident, you should catch that and keep it out of the pages. Don't let a poor, 16-year-old girl stop coming to class out of embarrassment over accidentally flashing the camera. Sometimes you can't control it, though, like when an outside contractor ridiculously touches up all the photos and makes some people naked. In that case, well, blame them.
Don't be jerks: This is another area that always gets 'em. Problem is, high-schoolers (and frequently their parents, teachers, and administrators) are, in fact, kind of jerks. But you have to know pretty much anything you do out of malice in a yearbook is going to get noticed. Like in West Sacramento last year when the yearbook editors took a shot at the cheerleaders:
The article was titled, "Who Wears Short Shorts" and described the cheer squad as showing "more leg than Daisy Duke" and being "dolled up in micromini(sic) uniforms" while "strolling down halls" with "blatant disregard" for River City High's "school dress code."
Get your labor figured out, even if it's volunteer: Students usually work on these things for school credit, and that's great, but labor spats on the team are always a danger. Plus, volunteers also pitch in from time to time, especially when the students are too young, and if you spurn them they can get very annoyed. Take, for example, the parent volunteer at a Bradfield, Texas, elementary school who worked very hard on the yearbook but was told she didn't have enough candid shots of students. The school tried to run her design without the candid shots, and the volunteer responded by copyrighting the book.
Keep the personal anecdotes PG at least: This may not be as widely applicable as the others, but it does seem like an easy trap to fall into as editors seek out cute new gimmicks to make yearbooks fun. In Virginia last year, editors asked students to share anonymous personal anecdotes, which quickly left the realm of the appropriate:
"I have sex with people just to feel wanted."
"I worry all the time my ex-boyfriend will use the naked picture I sent him to ruin my life."
"I had an abortion and my mom doesn't know."
"I once did so much pot that I woke up high."
"I'm pregnant with my best friend's boyfriend's kid."
Don't be homophobic or racist: Another no-brainer, but people do it. At Charter Oak High School in Covina, California, yearbook editors replaced some black students' names with offensive nicknames. It turned out the nicknames were filler that nobody edited out, which is a good lesson in just not being a racist in general. Sometimes, though, it's the teachers or administrators whose prejudice screws up the kids' memorabilia, like the New Jersey high school where a photo of two male students kissing was blacked out. Then there was the story last year about how homophobic high school administrators in Jackson, Mississippi wouldn't run a photo of Caera Sturgis, a lesbian student, because she wore a tuxedo in it. In that case, of course, there wasn't much the yearbook editors could do.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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