An online uproar over the front cover of the 2019-2020 Lumpkin County High School yearbook has led officials to halt the distribution of the annual while scheduling a called Lumpkin County Board of Education meeting for Wednesday morning.
“We gave out probably a little over 100 yearbooks and it wasn’t long after they went out that we started to have people complaining about the cover,” LCHS Public Relations Coordinator Jason Lemley said. “They just kind of took it out of context. They see a student’s fist raised on the front cover and of course with our current political state with the murder of George Floyd and the other rioting and everything across the country and even in Georgia, people kind of took it as a support of what’s going on.”
However, Lemley said the yearbook theme was chosen long ago.
“[It] was designed last summer, so it had nothing to do with what’s going on currently,” he said. “It’s more about students standing up for themselves and changing and evolving over time and if they read the inside and didn’t just base it on what they saw on the front cover then they would understand that.”
LCHS principal Billy Kirk and Lumpkin County School Superintendent Dr. Rob Brown decided to halt further distribution of the yearbook until after the meeting, which is scheduled for 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. This meeting is open to the public.
The concerns, mostly being expressed online, came to a head Tuesday morning and the special called meeting was announced around 12 p.m.
“This is all basically on social media, we’ve had some phone calls but what we’re seeing on social media really is that there are a few people angered by taking it out of context and thinking that it’s in support of Black Lives Matter or something else, but we’re seeing a lot more people that are in support of letting the students speak their minds and that they think the yearbook is a great production and publication,” Lemley said. “So we have a called board meeting tomorrow morning at 8 a.m.”
Student members of the Yearbook staff will be invited to speak at the meeting to explain their reasoning behind planning this year's theme.
Lemley said the students were proud of their publication and are eager to present their process and intended message.
A recent Nugget feature highlighted the yearbook staff’s desire to create a book that reflected the many triumphs and challenges of high school life. It took on more meaning when the pandemic brought a halt to the school year.
“Our theme, Revolution Leads to Evolution, is basically about students accepting challenges outside their comfort zones, an inevitable part of growing up,” Lisa O’Rear, LCHS English teacher and yearbook adviser, stated in that story. “But who knew students would be isolated? Who knew basic daily life would become cumbersome?”
Autumn Cleymans, an LCHS sophomore and copy editor on the yearbook staff said the theme is relevant to the lives of her fellow students.
“We especially liked the idea that things will get difficult and messy before change can truly happen, that everyone has hardships they have to overcome,” Cleymans said.
O’Rear has been working to transition the staff toward a more journalistic style, using the yearbook to tell the story of the student body from the past year. The change in perspective helped the staff to find the powerful stories of students facing changes and overcoming obstacles featured in the yearbook.
“The writing in this book is awesome,” O’Rear said. “Each editor composed a feature story on students who were tested somehow but overcame because they accepted the challenge.”
Photo editor Lacy Gilreath said she feels the journalistic approach helped the staff reach a new level of interest for readers.
“I think this has helped us to tell more stories the students actually care about rather than just writing the fluff that you see in most yearbooks,” Gilreath said. “We try to address the good, the bad, and the ugly. We don’t want to shy away from difficult subjects because we know our students don’t.”
Cleymans agrees, saying that their new “informative perspective” better serves their fellow students.
“By moving more towards journalism, we've been able to better tell the stories of the student body from an unbiased, informative perspective,” she said.