Raising Arizona: Yearbook Knocked for Depicting Teen Parents

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This spring's yearbook at Mesa High School in suburban Phoenix offers a candid snapshot of the class of 2014: Sports achievements, academic glory — and the children conceived by some students.

For some, photos of student parents and students expecting children cross the line for yearbook content.

Kathee Merkley has a 17-year-old daughter and a foreign exchange student enrolled as seniors at Mesa High this year. She told The Arizona Republic she was troubled by the image of a male student embracing the belly of a pregnant female student.

"When you look at the pages at first you think it is of a child development class," she said. "But then if you look closer you see the photo of the boy hugging the belly. I think that was unnecessary."

The two pages in question, titled "I'm Working a Double Shift" — a reference to the dual responsibilities of student and parent — have drawn complaints from families. But no changes will be made to the yearbook, Mesa Public Schools spokeswoman Helen Hollands said Monday.

While a yearbook is traditionally meant to commemorate the achievements that students — especially seniors — pull off in a given year, district officials are wary of trampling on the yearbook authors' First Amendment rights, Hollands said.

"When you have this kind of reaction from the community and the students to the content, it should help refine your judgment and inform your future focus on the appropriate content of your yearbook publication," Hollands said.

But she acknowledged that the designers of that small section of images are not advocating for teenagers to become parents — they are merely documenting the fact that some Mesa High students are living with that reality.

"It's not black and white. It is a conversation starter," Hollands said. "The students (when publishing a yearbook) tend to want to put themselves in the context of their world."

— Bill Briggs