School Draws The Line At Rifle, Confederate Flag
Amy Hetzner, JS Online (Milwaukee), Jun. 1
Village of Pewaukee — Tyler Schultz was only following Pewaukee High School’s directions to let his personality shine through in his senior yearbook photo when he brought a rifle and Confederate flag along to his picture session, his mother says.
Now the school has decided Schultz’s image is inappropriate for a school publication and asked for another photo, and his mother is crying censorship.
“I want them to admit they did something wrong,” said Schultz’s mother, Tammy Ankomeus. “They shouldn’t have censored a picture and not told us anything about it.”
Ankomeus said her family learned about the photo flap only last week when a student asked whether Schultz could submit another photograph for an honors banquet where he was being celebrated as technical education student of the year.
Schultz had turned in the senior photo last fall that pictured him with gun and flag. He was told it was fine by the school’s yearbook adviser, she said.
For last week’s event, the school cropped Schultz’s senior year photo so the rifle resting in the crook of his arm and the Confederate flag propped behind him would not be seen. Officials have asked him to submit another photo to run in the yearbook, which comes out in fall.
Pewaukee School District Superintendent JoAnn Sternke said she regrets how the incident was handled. Schultz and his family should have been told earlier that the district did not think the photograph he submitted was appropriate for a district publication, she said.
But she stood by the decision not to allow Schultz’s current picture in the yearbook.
The flag could be taken as a “racial slight,” and it’s not appropriate to allow a student to display a gun in a district publication because guns are not allowed on school grounds, she said.
“My concern, since it’s a school publication, is that it be representative of what we would condone,” Sternke said. “My concern is that people who don’t know his background or him, how they would perceive that image.”
ACLU backs district
The Pewaukee School District is within its rights, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“This is clearly not censorship,” said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “I think that in a high school situation, if you applied the standard of whether or not it’s disruptive to the educational environment, that there’s an issue with this particular image.”
Although students have a right to free speech, there are limits, he said.
“At some point, the district really needs to look at this as an opportunity to reaffirm its position on safety in schools and its commitment to diversity and equality,” Ahmuty said.
Schultz didn’t mean to offend with the photo, Ankomeus said. The rifle was given to him by a grandfather and shows off his involvement in the sport of trap shooting, she said. The flag represents his love for the South, where some of his ancestors are from.
“He loves the Southern culture, and the Confederate flag is part of the South,” Ankomeus said. “If people want to call him a bigot or racist . . . they don’t know him.”
Schultz is reconsidering an earlier decision not to submit another photo, Ankomeus said.
But she said the incident has interfered with what should be a happy time with his coming graduation.
“It puts a little bit of shadow on things,” she said.