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High school paused distribution of yearbook over pages about Black Lives Matter movement

A Broward County high school yearbook controversy is providing a critical lesson on censorship.
A Broward County high school yearbook controversy is providing a critical lesson on censorship.

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – A high school yearbook controversy is providing a critical lesson on censorship.

West Broward High School’s yearbook came out last week, and on Friday, students were told they had to stop distributing and selling the books due to what they consider censorship based on racist complaints.

“Most of it is history,” said Edge Yearbook Co-Editor-in-Chief Elise Twitchell. “Of why it’s happening.”

She showed pages 16 and 17 of The Edge, the student-run yearbook at West Broward High, to Local 10′s Hatzel Vela. The pages depicted students participating in the Black Lives Matter movement and its history, as well as the names of those who have died in police-involved incidents.

West Broward High School yearbook The Edge's so-called controversial pages on the Black Lives Matter movement. (WPLG)

Twitchell, also a senior at the school, said without consulting them, the administration decided to stop selling and distributing the $90 yearbook.

“I guess more parents’ complaints came in,” she said.

Twitchell said they were told the story was not objective, because it didn’t include a conversation about Blue Lives Matter.

But Black Lives Matter was an event, a movement in which students participated, so she said it had to be documented.

“We just didn’t feel that including anything beyond Black Lives Matter was appropriate because we thought that it took away from the purpose of the page,” said West Broward High School Yearbook Teacher David Fleischer.

In a letter to the community, Twitchell wrote:

“The suspension of yearbook distribution and sales because of a page that talks about the struggles that black people face in our world is disappointing and gross because a good amount of our student body is black, or a person of color.”

Sommer Dean, who is an attorney at the Student Press Law Center in Washington, has seen similar incidents happen across the country.

“It sounds like it is basic censorship that the school has engaged in,” Dean said. “It’s well within (the students) purview legally to determine what content they want to include and what convent they think is not relevant.”

Before noon on Monday, the yearbook advisor was told yearbook sales and distribution could resume. This comes after the school district said there was a review of the content.

“I know that their intent was to do the right thing, I’m just not sure that their execution was necessarily appropriate,” said Fleischer.

The district says the yearbook is supposed to highlight newsworthy events, and students did have the right to document the movement, but students worry with only two days left of school, some seniors will not have access to it.

“Indefinitely suspending the yearbook over a spread advocating for education about racism is not what a “world class” school does,” said Fleischer. “The Administration had the opportunity to review the BLM spread before publication and chose not to, thereby tacitly approving its inclusion.”

Full statement from Broward County Public Schools:

“Broward County Public Schools supports and encourages students’ freedom of expression. After concern was expressed last week regarding editorial student content included in the West Broward High School yearbook about the Black Lives Matter movement, the school’s administration paused distribution on Friday afternoon while the concerns were carefully reviewed.

“As the yearbook is intended to highlight notable and newsworthy events from that year, student journalists exercised their freedom of speech in documenting the movement. As a result of the review, distribution of the yearbook resumed Monday morning with an insert noting that the views expressed are not sponsored by the District.”

SEE THE INSERT BELOW


About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.