Opinion: Good judgment

By Editorial Board

In New Hampshire, a student has filed a federal lawsuit against his high school for refusing to publish his senior yearbook photo. While other students submitted photos featuring poses with sports equipment, cars or musical instruments, 17-year-old Blake Douglass’ photo shows him outdoors, wearing a hunting vest and with a shotgun over his shoulder.

School officials at Londonderry High School claim the picture is inappropriate, and we agree. Although hunting is Douglass’ hobby, school shootings, most notably Columbine, have made the issue of students operating guns sensitive and controversial.

Douglass’ lawyer argues that the school’s “pick-and-choose policy” is unfair. However, the tastefulness of guns is debatable. School officials are exercising good judgment – not censorship.

If Douglass is so adamant about demonstrating his love for hunting within the pages of the school yearbook, he should be willing to compromise and pose with other types of trap-and-skeet equipment.

Regardless of one’s opinion on hunting, the reality that guns are designed and manufactured to kill things cannot be ignored. Publishing a photo of this nature in a high school yearbook could not only alienate Douglass from his fellow students, but also could cause fear. In the violent world we live in, the image of a person holding a gun easily can be misinterpreted, especially in the context of a high school yearbook.

Furthermore, while the school’s official policy is to “be free from all policy restrictions outside the normal rules for responsible journalism,” that doesn’t mean it is legally bound to an “anything goes” policy. Public schools are allowed to exercise judgment and make different rules. In many schools, you can’t chew gum, dress provocatively or read magazines like Maxim or Playboy. Although a student posing with a gun might be acceptable in a college publication, different standards in high school make sense for adolescents who are in a sensitive stage of development.

If Londonderry is having problems concerning the appropriateness of its yearbook photos, perhaps it should consider changing its policy to avoid future headaches. The school is completely within its right to prevent the publication of Douglass’ photo. However, if yearbook photos continue to be a major controversy, maybe it should return to more traditional, uniform yearbook photos. Otherwise, it placed itself at risk of setting a double standard for future photo submissions.