Florida students win yearbook dispute over “Don’t Say Gay” protest photos

After a student protest and parents over yearbook censorship, a Florida school board overturned its superintendent’s plan to cover up a page showing students waving rainbow flags and a “love is love” sign during a strike against the so-called state law “Don’t say gay.”

The superintendent told the board that the page violated his policy by appearing to support a student strike. Full-page stickers had already arrived and would be added before yearbooks are due out this week, he said.

Members of the Seminole County School Board rejected that plan Tuesday night, voting 5-0 to order smaller stickers that don’t cover the words and pictures on the page while explaining that the March protest over the proposed Florida’s Parents’ Rights in Education Act outside of Lyman High School was not authorized. .

“I’d be happy to pay out of my own pocket for different stickers to say this was not a school-sponsored event,” Board President Amy Pennock said to applause from the crowd.

The Florida bill, signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in Marchprohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.

Students at the school in Longwood, which is near Orlando, responded to the censorship scheme by creating the hashtag “#stopthestickers” on social media.

It caught the attention of lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Carlos G. Smith, Florida’s first LGBTQ Latino lawmaker, who tweeted that the ‘censorship is a direct result of the law these students were protesting. #WeWillNotBeErased in this call’ free State'”. ‘”

The governor frequently refers to the “free state of Florida” in his press conferences.

“Now we’re all over the world with this,” complained board vice president Abby Sanchez, who offered to help pay for the smaller decals. “This is the most ridiculous thing. These are our children! We have to do what is right for them.”

More than 30 students, parents and teachers spoke out against the sticker plan. “It’s silencing the LGBTQ-plus community and silencing the journalistic community,” Sara Ward, a student on the yearbook staff, told the board.

“I want to make it clear to each and every student that this is not about the Lyman High School administration looking to target any student, trying to silence any voice,” Superintendent Serita Beamon said as she tried to explain her decision. .

She denied that covering the entire page would violate the First Amendment or board policy, which she says authorizes prior restriction of school-sponsored postings.

“There are some speeches that are prohibited. And that includes speech that is likely to cause a substantial disruption or materially interfere with school activities or the educational process,” Beamon said.

The board wasn’t having it.

Board member Karen Almond said she had personally witnessed the student walkout, which was peaceful, and said there is nothing wrong with the yearbook page.

“We all make mistakes… We recognize it and try to do what we can to fix it,” Sanchez said. “As students, I am proud of you for bringing it to our attention.”

Faculty advisor Danielle Pomeranz said her students were just doing their jobs by documenting an event that happened on campus. She assured the board that the smaller stickers could be ordered and added in time for students to get their yearbooks this week.

Skye Tiedemann, a yearbook staff member, summed up the night as a clear victory for the student speech.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up,” Tiedemann said, “because students have an opportunity to make a difference.”

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