Missouri parents are freaking out about a high school yearbook that includes students' opinions about cannabis, sex, and other taboo topics.
Kirkwood High School (KHS), located in a suburb of St. Louis, has already won several awards for its boundary-pushing Pioneer yearbook. For this year's edition, the yearbook pushed boundaries even further by including two sections that share students' views on cannabis, alcohol, vaping, and hookup culture. This bold move has enraged some local parents, though, and many are now calling for the school to censor its students.
“The yearbook is a really big deal in our town,” explained Nicki Walker, a mother of two local students, to TODAY.com. But she was apparently “horrified” to discover that the current yearbook includes sections about booze, weed, and sex. “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,” she said.
Other local moms agree. “My heart breaks for all of our children and their entire generation," wrote Kerri Tumminello Fenton, another Kirkwood parent, on Facebook. "It is deeply disturbing to see a school openly exploiting the illegal sexualization and drug and alcohol abuse of minors."
The students aren’t celebrating drugs and alcohol, though. Several students argue that drinking and vaping pose serious health risks. At the top of the page, one anonymous student warns that alcohol “can permanently damage your brain, especially underage drinking.” One student does opine that “drinking is okay occasionally,” but also acknowledges that “drinking alone... or even drinking every weekend can be harmful and abusive.”
The section also discusses cannabis, but again, students aren't glorifying weed. An anonymous student said that it “isn't fair” that “one state would send someone to jail” for smoking pot, “but another state wouldn't.” Another student said that they supported recreational cannabis legalization, rightly noting that “minorities are disproportionately incarcerated for possession of marijuana.”
Conservative Missouri parents seem to be even more riled up at students' frank discussion of sex than they are about drugs, though. A photo in the hookup section shows a bra, some lip gloss, a pregnancy test, and a package of Plan B contraceptive pills – a hot-button issue for a state that has completely banned abortion. One parent even asserts that the lip gloss pictured in the article is “for blowies,” even though the page clearly talks about kissing.
Parents are blaming the school for allowing the taboo content to be printed, but officials made it clear that the yearbook's content is completely controlled by the students themselves. The yearbook's staff have gone on record to argue that they are recording the actual experiences that students are actually going through, regardless of their potentially offensive nature.
"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," said Avery Opperman, editor-in-chief of the Pioneer yearbook, to TODAY.com. "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. Covering topics that matter help spur discussion and help to educate people."
Not all parents are condemning the yearbook's bold decision, though. Dr. Derek Byers, another Kirkwood parent, told local NBC affiliate 5 On Your Side that the controversial sections aren't “condoning” drugs and sex, “it’s just saying their experience... It’s sort of recognizing what kids are dealing with these days, which is gender issues, racism, censorship, sex, relationships. I mean these are issues that they’re dealing with.”