When seniors trickled into West Broward High School last week to pick up their caps and gowns, they were told they couldn’t get their yearbooks.
The reason: The assistant principal ordered yearbook teacher David Fleischer to stop selling and distributing the yearbook because the Black Lives Matter spread in it was “too politically one sided,” Fleischer said he was told by the administration.
“It’s censorship,” Elise Twitchell, Edge Yearbook co-editor-in-chief, said Tuesday. Twitchell was one of several editors who released statements sharing their disappointment in school administrators. “And the fact that it was over parent complaints about the Black Lives Matter spread is just appalling to me.”
That was Friday. By Monday, the district allowed the Edge staff to continue to distribute the yearbook, but this time with a letter from the school’s principal inserted.
“Please note that as a governmental agency, the School Board of Broward County must maintain a neutral stance on all political views,” Principal Brad Fatout wrote in the letter. “As such, any political views expressed in the 2021 West Broward yearbook are not sponsored by the District.”
According to a statement from Broward County Public Schools, “the school’s administration paused distribution late 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,” the district said. “As a result of the review, distribution of the yearbook resumed Monday morning with an insert noting that, as a governmental entity, the Broward County School Board must maintain a neutral stance on all political views...”
Fleischer, the yearbook teacher, was not happy with the letter, noting “the letter was included without the knowledge of The Edge, or its endorsement.”
“The Edge believes the letter is offensive and dehumanizes the non-white students at West Broward and the entire Broward County School District,” Fleischer wrote in an email where he addressed the West Broward community.
In addition to student photos and other standard yearbook material, the yearbook also included coverage of the 2020 presidential election, COVID-19 and the LGBTQ community. None of the other spreads were deemed “too political” by the district, according to Fleischer.
West Broward is not the only South Florida yearbook that tackled the protests spawned by the death of George Floyd, the Black man killed by a white Minneapolis officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25, 2020.
Coral Gables High yearbook editors also created a spread, called “Power to the People,’’ focusing on the protests and student reaction to them in their yearbook, Cavaleon.
Howard Wasserman, a law professor at Florida International University College of Law, said while the school can control the content of the student publications, he was “glad they picked something that is just sort of silly, but otherwise allows the students to say what they wanted to say in the yearbook.”
“I am glad that the school district neither just stopped circulation of the yearbook altogether nor insisted that there be content about Blue Lives Matter,” he said. “What they did was just make explicit, I think what everyone sort of knows, which is this is a student publication and it’s not the school district speaking.”
Despite the Edge staff efforts — including trying to halt the distribution of the yearbook with the note — the administration has not changed its stance, Fleischer said.
“I’m very, very proud of my students, and it’s been a great learning experience for them. They’ve taken the helm,” Fleischer said. “I’m really proud of how much they pushed this and how much they stood up for what they believe in, their publication and the student body.”