Guns in senior portraits OK, Nebraska school board says
School board members unanimously approve 'tasteful and appropriate' photos
You've seen those senior class photos of kids posing with footballs and musical instruments.
Now graduating seniors attending a central Nebraska school district are free to pose with firearms for their school yearbook picture, as long as it's done tastefully.
School board members voted 6-0 Monday to allow such photos in the Broken Bow Public Schools after parents pressed for the change, according to Superintendent Mark Sievering.
The community of 3,500 people is rural, about 65 miles northwest of Kearney.
Hunting, skeet and trap are popular in the community and firearms are common, Sievering said. Broken Bow's annual Nebraska One Box Pheasant Hunt draws hunters and celebrities from all over the country, he said.
"The board I believe felt they wanted to give students who are involved in those kinds of things the opportunity to take a senior picture with their hobby, with their sport, just like anybody with any other hobby or sport," he said.
A district official said a check with a number of Nebraska districts found that about half of them allowed such photos.
The district previously had no policy governing senior photos for the yearbook, but its practice had been to prohibit them in light of national concerns about school violence, Sievering said.
The new policy specifies that students may pose with objects that illustrate their accomplishments or interests, including hunting, shooting and other outdoor sporting activities.
If posing with an item normally considered a weapon, such as a rifle, shotgun or knife, the student may not be brandishing the weapon or pointing it at the camera, the policy says.
The display must be "tasteful and appropriate." For example, the policy says, a student "should not submit a photograph of game shot by the student if the animal is in obvious distress."
School board member Matthew Haumont, a Nebraska hunter education instructor who has enjoyed the shooting sports all his life, said he wants the photos to be respectful of the shooting sports and not be offensive.
"So we're going to have to take these as a case-by-case basis," he said. "But I think that goes with any photo, whether it's a scantily clad girl or something like that."
Shooting is a part of the town culture, and there are a number of local kids who shoot competitively, he said.
"For me as a sportsman, I think the policy's important because it allows those kids who are doing those things a chance to demonstrate what they're doing and to celebrate that," he said. "I think that's important and fair in our country."
He said it's important to note that the district's new policy also prohibits students from being photographed using drugs, alcohol or tobacco.
Broken Bow High School graduates about 50 to 60 seniors each year, and many are involved in lots of activities, so it's possible only a handful will take advantage of the new policy, he said.
In metro Omaha, spokeswomen from Westside Community Schools and Papillion-La Vista Schools said they require senior yearbook photos to be cropped tightly, so there's not much room for props.
If they are included, Papillion-La Vista policy says various backgrounds and props must be "school-appropriate," spokeswoman Annette Eyman said.
At Westside High, senior photos are all head-and-shoulder shots, spokeswoman Peggy Rupprecht said.
The Lincoln Public Schools prohibit props and hats.
Amanda Gailey, director of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, said that as long as the photographs are being taken off campus and the photo sessions are supervised, it's not a big concern for the group.
Photographer Brian Baer of Kearney said his Baer Photography studio draws seniors from a hundred-mile radius.
He said he photographs more than 100 seniors a year, and he has not heard of any schools that prohibit firearms in portraits.
"Some schools enforce rules such as their dress code, (so) whatever goes for the dress code also has to apply to the senior picture that would be published in the school's annual," he said. "But I've never heard of any limitation as far as guns."
He allows firearms in his studio sessions but checks to make sure they're not loaded, he said. Often the firearms photos are taken outdoors, he said.
The kids who bring firearms to his studio have a "very healthy respect" for them, he said.
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