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Altered yearbook photos latest inconsistency, say students

Published May 30, 2014 7:38 am

School officials say the students were warned the images could be edited.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Several of the girls who opened their Wasatch High School yearbook and found their photos had been digitally altered to cover exposed skin see the editing as the latest inconsistent application of their high school's dress code.

Throughout the school year, 16-year-old sophomores Kimberly Montoya and Rachel Russell said they've seen uneven enforcement of a dress code that prohibits immodest clothing, such as tank tops or short dresses.

"The yearbook photos went too far," Montoya said Thursday. "It made us out to be something we weren't."

Montoya wore a white sleeveless blouse for her yearbook picture. She had seen the photo countless times throughout the year — it was used in teachers' roll call sheets, it popped up every time she went through the lunch line, and she had looked at it posted on a school wall when students were specifically told to examine their photos and decide whether they wanted the photos retaken.

But it wasn't until this week, when she opened a yearbook, that she saw the photo had been altered — uneven white sleeves had been painted on her shoulders.

"I feel like they [school administrators] push their beliefs on us," she said. "I feel judged by what I'm wearing and what I do on Sundays."

Russell wore a black floral tank top for her photo. In the yearbook, black sleeves were added.

Montoya and Russell said they were less upset by the alterations than they were by the inconsistent editing — photos of girls wearing similar clothes were left untouched.

Wasatch High School acknowledged Thursday that its yearbook staff made some mistakes in its "graphic corrections" of student photos, which were edited to add sleeves and higher necklines.

In a message on the school's website, the high school said the staffers "were not consistent in how they [corrections] were applied to student photos and the school apologizes for that inconsistency."

The Heber City school and Wasatch County School District are reevaluating the practice of photo editing, the message said.

Principal Shawn Kelly declined to comment further Thursday. "That's our statement. That's our stance," he said. School officials did not allow a reporter on campus Thursday.

Several other female students said Wednesday said they were shocked to open their yearbooks this week to find their clothing altered.

One girl, sophomore Shelby Baum, found her tattoo, which meets the school's standard for tattoos, erased in her yearbook picture. Her tattoo reads, "I am enough the way I am." Her v-neck shirt was edited to show a straight line across her chest.

The girls noted, too, that the photo editing was selective. Photos of other girls wearing almost identical clothing were not edited at all.

And some of the clothing edited to be more modest apparently meets the schools dress code, the girls said, because they have worn the same clothes to school on other occasions without an issue.

Montoya and Russell said Thursday that they were breaking dress code that very day — Montoya wore a gauzy cream dress with spaghetti straps and Russell wore a belly-baring top — but neither were told to change during school.

But they said they have both been ordered to change out of their clothes and into a pair of sweats or a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "I support Wasatch High dress code," when they wore jeans with a tear above the knee or a skirt that was deemed "immodest."

"It's a form of bullying, I think," Russell said. "You definitely stand out."

Both girls said they wish they would have been told when they were getting their picture taken that their outfits did not fit in the school's dress code. Montoya said she had just taken a jacket off and handed it to her mother.

She would have left the jacket on, she said, if she knew she had been breaking the dress code and that her photo would be altered.

But in its statement, Wasatch High School said a 4-by-5-foot sign warned students when their pictures were taken last fall that their photos could be edited if their clothing did not meet school dress standards.

"Tank tops, low cut tops, inappropriate slogans on shirts, etc. would not be allowed. If a student violated this policy, the sign told them explicitly that the photos may be edited to correct the violation. The sign was plainly visible to all students who were having their photos taken," the statement said.

Bobbi Jo Wilkerson-Westergard, Baum's mother, said she accompanied each of her children for their photo sessions during registration last fall and did not see any warning sign — large or small — about photo editing.

"There wasn't anything there," Wilkerson-Westergard said. "They could have told them that day, 'You're not following dress code.' Then they could have changed clothes. They could have given other options than editing, which they didn't learn about until the end of the year."

But Olivia McGinniss, who graduated Wednesday night, said she remembers seeing a sign last fall saying the dress code would be enforced — but did not see a sign the year before.

It wasn't until last spring, when she opened her yearbook, that she found someone had doctored her photo to add sleeves to her shoulders and a small panel over her chest. No cleavage was showing in the original.

"I was very angry with the school," said McGinniss, a Mormon who believes the school dress code's requirement that shoulders be covered results from the LDS Church's particular conception of modesty. "I don't think their standards should be forced on everyone."

McGinniss said she and her mother both complained, and Kelly apologized and said he would speak to the yearbook staff about being more careful in its editing.

However, since then, McGinniss said, yearbook staffers have told her Kelly "goes through the yearbook and chooses which ones to alter. "

Wilkerson-Westergard questions what she considers a double standard:

While individual photos are edited, photos of scantily clad volleyball players, cheerleaders and dance team members are left untouched, she said. "There are literally crotches of girls on the dance team," she said.

jmiller@sltrib.com

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller @KristenMoulton