If we could put Kearney High School officials in after-school detention, we would do that. And maybe have them write “I will not compound my errors” over and over.
First, as we wrote earlier this week, administrators at the school decided to delete the quotes under yearbook photos of two graduating seniors who are gay and had alluded to their sexuality in their messages. The officials took another wrong turn when they never even bothered to discuss that decision with the young men, who knew nothing about it until they opened the yearbooks and saw a blank space under their pictures.
Many in Kearney, a Missouri community of just under 10,000, spoke up in support of the two. But darned if the school officials didn’t manage to make things worse anyway in their handling of the situation.
At first, they acknowledged that they’d been trying to avoid offending anyone and had wound up hurting the very students they’d been trying to protect. But then, they inexplicably began insisting instead that the deletions were somehow a result of a breakdown in communications and that a total of 11 flagged quotes were deleted without warning.
But that they failed to communicate the decision has nothing to do with why they made it in the first place.
At a Wednesday night board meeting where the crowd heard from one of the students whose quote had been disappeared, the teacher and parent who followed him to the microphone did nothing to support him and instead focused entirely on defending the school.
“My voice was taken, and I became one of the silenced,” recent graduate Thomas Swartz said in his statement to the board. “Now, I demand change. I want the school to know that by simply erasing my quote doesn’t mean that my voice will be silenced. My voice is going to be heard.”
Only, was it heard? It was disappointing that the teacher, Tim Marshall, and parent, Debbie Holt, spoke not to buck up the young men who’d been targeted, but the reputation of the school and its principal, David Schwarzenbach.
And the proposed solution to this completely unnecessary problem is a plain old bad idea. Board president Mark Kelly said officials are now mulling whether it’s just too “administratively tedious” to continue the yearbook quotes at all.
The message adults have so far sent young people in Kearney is this: First, try to gauge public reaction rather than right action. When you get that wrong, don’t tell the truth about what happened. Finally, throw your hands up and run away.
If officials do scrap the senior quotes from the yearbook, they’ll be taking away a tradition kids love. They’ll be punishing students and saving themselves some work, rather than resolving that of course they can do better than allowing quotes about fat girls and how no woman should ever be president but deleting two about coming out of the closet.
Your town isn’t as intolerant as you seem to have assumed. But your actions are still doing damage and reinforcing unfortunate stereotypes about rural America.