Staff at a Kirkwood, Missouri, high school is under fire as shocked parents react to pages of the yearbook that feature discussions on drugs, underage drinking, and the pros and cons of “a casual sexual relationship without labels.”
“The yearbook is a really big deal in our town,” Kirkwood High School mom Nicki Walker told TODAY.com, adding that she and her son “were both so excited” to receive it.
At first glance, it appeared that the award-winning student yearbook staff had produced another beautiful keepsake, but Walker’s excitement was soon tempered by what she believes is inappropriate content.
“You start flipping through, and it’s really nice — you see the swim team and the basketball team, and all their accomplishments,” Walker said. “Then you turn the page.”
What followed — student-written sections on marijuana, booze, and “hook-up culture” — horrified the mother of two.
“When you land on the drugs and alcohol page, there’s a picture of vape pods and beer, and then there are some surveys where the kids say they prefer drinking over smoking,” Walker said.
To be fair, not all the high school students were in favor of running amock, and the yearbook published their thoughts, too.
“I don’t think young people should be drinking alcohol,” one student wrote, acknowledging that “it can get to the point where it’s dangerous for them.”
On another spread, the headline screams, “Hooked(ish): Students share their opinions on hook-up culture, the concept of a casual sexual relationship without labels, and its benefits and consequences.”
Decorating the page are graphics advertising “Plan B One-Step” pregnancy tests, a discarded bra, and condoms.
“What is the weirdest place you have hooked-up?” the yearbook asks. Answers included a “dressing room in the West County Mall,” the “football field,” and multiple public parking lots.
“What kind of sicko is allowing this sort of stuff to be published?” Walker asked.
According to a spokesperson for the school district, don’t look at the faculty members.
“School officials do not engage in prior review of the yearbook,” the district told TODAY.com in a statement. “The content of KHS Media is determined by and reflects only the views of the student staff and not school officials or the school itself.”
In another statement, Pioneer Yearbook Editor-In-Chief Avery Oppermann defended the content, claiming the students are just keeping things “real.”
“As high school journalists, we are simply trying to record the real history of the year. Yearbook is journalism, so there is good, sad, happy, and bad; just like high schoolers’ lives. Those are the things we want to reflect,” Oppermann wrote.
She praised the school’s principal, Dr. Mike Havener, and the yearbook advisor, Mitch Eden.
“I think it’s important to give students voices and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about these types of topics or any topics for that matter,” she said. “Covering topics that matter help spur discussion and help to educate people.”
One Kirkwood parent, Derek Byers, has seen the yearbook and doesn’t have a problem with it. Byers, who ran the Kirkwood scholarship program for six years, has a son who is graduating.
“The students of Kirkwood are provided a very unique autonomy. The autonomy is both in the school yearbook and the newspaper,” Byers told Fox2. “This has been a tradition in Kirkwood for decades.”
In the Thursday statement, the Kirkwood School District stood behind the student-led yearbook.
“Kirkwood High School has a longstanding tradition of allowing student media to be designated public forums,” the district wrote. “This practice has led to the Kirkwood High School journalism program being one of 16 programs in the country announced by the Journalism Education Association, National Scholastic Press Association, and Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society as a First Amendment Press Freedom Award school for 2023.”
“I don’t have an issue with this. If I were a kindergarten parent, this would blow my socks off,” Byers said. “But now having a student who has finished high school, I think it represents what they’ve experienced during the past four years, from ages 14 to 18, socially.”
“I think it’s fine for them to discuss it openly,” he argued. “I think things were suppressed when we were kids. It was a voodoo topic. With social media, it’s a different world these days. I don’t think it’s salacious in any way. It just represents what the students thought was pertinent to their lives.”
But Walker isn’t convinced.
“They have taken the stance that the journalism program at the high school is 100% student led, and that’s a great point of pride for them. They have made it clear they are not going to take any steps to take editorial control of the yearbooks,” she said. “That yearbook is sensational and classless.”
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