Clovis superintendent apologizes for yearbook controversy

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Jessie Hardison broke down into tears while speaking during an open forum at Tuesday’s Clovis school board meeting. Hardison said that many of the speakers were “only showing hate” and that “God loves you for who you are.”

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm on Tuesday apologized to school officials she said were unfairly criticized for the inclusion of lesbian couples in the 2008 high school yearbook.

She took full responsibility for not reinstating a policy that gives school officials oversight of the yearbook. She said the school will put in a policy providing more oversight on the yearbook next year.

Nineteen Clovis residents, parents and Clovis High School students offered comments during Tuesday’s school board meeting related to the yearbook staff’s decision to publish photographs of lesbian couples in a feature in the annual about relationships.

More than 170 people crowded the Clovis Municipal Schools building conference room during the meeting.

Some critics of the yearbook said homosexuality is a sin and was not an appropriate subject in the yearbook. Supporters said the yearbook staff did the right thing by including gays as a part of the community.

Church of the Nazarene Pastor Darwin Speicher said school administrators were blindsided by a yearbook staff’s hidden agenda to promote a homosexual lifestyle.

“We request policies that would give administrative power of oversight so we can reflect the kind of morality of the majority of the community,” he said.

Penny Bailey said the high school relationships are fleeting and should not be featured in the yearbook.

One woman said her daughter was one of the lesbian couples featured in the yearbook. She said her daughter changed her mind about being included in the yearbook but was told it was too late. She said she is concerned about the long-term effect the issue will have on her daughter.

“There has to be some kind of accountability,” she said.

The woman’s brother said the family is looking into legal remedies.

Clovis resident Eugene Lovato said he supports the yearbook staff’s decision to publish the photographs. Lovato, who describes himself as a Catholic and a heterosexual, said the gay lifestyle permeates society and should not be hidden from students.

Yearbook staff members said they wanted the publication to be a reflection of the high school population, which includes homosexuals.

Seidenwurm said the school district will conduct public study sessions to develop a new policy regarding oversight of student publications.

She said board policy prohibits board members from responding to comments made during the public forum portion of the meeting.