HEBER CITY — Wasatch School District officials are standing by a decision at Wasatch High School to edit yearbook photos of students determined to be in violation of the school's dress code.
In a prepared statement posted on the district's website, administrators said students were made aware of potential edits on the day their yearbook photos were taken. District officials claim that a 4-by-5 foot sign was posted reminding students that clothing such as tank tops and low-cut shirts were not allowed and could lead to their photos being corrected for publication.
"When the yearbook comes out in the spring, students are always excited to see their pictures and are concerned with how they look in the yearbook, so it is understandable that students in violation of the dress code could forget that they received warnings about inappropriate dress," the statement reads. "However, there is no question that all students were advised that photos may be edited if the student’s dress did not follow the dress code."
School and district officials have fielded complaints from a number of students, all female, who say their photos were edited without warning to cover shoulders and necklines and to obscure tattoos.
On Thursday, Wasatch School District Superintendent Terry Shoemaker declined to comment on the photos, instead directing questions to the district's official statement.
In that statement, the district acknowledges that the school's yearbook staff erred in applying the dress code policy inconsistently by altering the photos of some students while leaving other similarly dressed students unedited.
Advocates who work with rape victims are weighing in on the Wasatch High School yearbook editing.
Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City, calls it "modesty shaming."
She says covering up clothing in the yearbook sends a message that females are in charge of how men perceive them. She hears rape victims say all the time that they must have asked for it because of what they were wearing.
"Those who rape are responsible for rape, not short skirts, not bare arms," Mullen says.
Society starts this perception that girls and young women must dress modestly in order to keep men's sexual appetites in check at a young age, she added, and it needs to stop.
School officials should have consulted with the students and parents over the outfits and pictures, Mullens said, instead of just Photoshopping them.
"Wasatch High School and Wasatch County School District are evaluating the practice of photo editing of pictures as it now stands and will make a determination on further use of the practice," the district statement reads.
But Bobbi Westergard, a mother of one of the students whose photo was edited, said she accompanied her children to the registration day when pictures were taken and doesn't remember any dress code notices.
"There wasn’t a sign," she said. "There’s wasn’t anything sent out ahead of time that said dress code enforced."
Westergard said she believes the photos that were edited suggest a possible issue of discrimination. She said she worries that photos were chosen not because of the student's dress but because of school cliques.
"There’s really not any rhyme or reason to why they chose the girls they chose to edit and who they left alone," she said.
Westergard's daughter Shelby Baum, a sophomore at Wasatch High School, said her photo was altered by adding a false black undershirt with a tight neckline that also covered up a tatoo on her collarbone that reads "I am enough the way I am."
Baum said she would have been more understanding of the dress code policy if she had been told she needed to change clothes at the time the photo was taken, or if the policy had been applied to every student.
"I feel like they’re trying to shame you of your body," she said. "I can honestly say I wasn’t showing anything that should have been covered."
On Wednesday, Shoemaker said the district has heard from parents in the past concerned about inappropriate dress in school yearbooks. He also reiterated that students were warned in the fall that photos would be edited if clothing was deemed to be immodest.
"We believe the rules are fairly clear, and yes we believe also … that we could have done a better job in enforcing it consistently," he said.
Contributing: Paul Nelson, Nkoyo Iyamba, Brianna Bodily