*Correction: The writer was able to take his picture with full makeup on Sept. 13. Certain inflammatory comments toward the Paly’s administration have been omitted.
“Take off the makeup and you can take your picture,” a Paly staff member told me as I attempted to have my school photo taken dressed in what would be considered “goth” clothing: black t-shirt, pants, eyeliner, mascara and hair dye.
Every year, the Class of 2017 experiences the loss of a Paly tradition. In our freshman year, we lost the great Streak Week, a week before graduation in which masked seniors streaked across the quad. In our sophomore year, Powder Puff football was replaced by Quidditch, and in our junior year, many students were not allowed parking permits because of the delayed construction of the gym and Performing Arts Center. This year, Paly decided to crack down on yet another harmless senior tradition. Ridiculous pictures for our exceedingly-important Palo Alto High School identification cards are no longer allowed. Not only is this unnecessary, but it violates the Constitution on which our nation stands.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. Although freedom of religion does not apply to goofy pictures, freedom of expression does. Palo Alto Senior High School is a public school, meaning that it is an extension of the government. Therefore, Paly is prohibited by law from denying students their constitutional right to express themselves.
While I do not identify as goth, if I had been attempting to use this picture as a means of “coming out” as a goth individual, Paly would have been prohibiting me from expressing a defining part of my identity through my physical appearance.
In previous years, seniors have been allowed free rein over the pictures that they wish to take. If the reason for the censoring of my picture was the obscenity of what I was wearing, I would have understood the restriction.
However my clothing did not violate any part of the Paly dress code. In two previous years, girls wore the same heavy makeup and experienced no restriction to the amount they were allowed to wear.
I was told that I had to take my black lipstick, eyeliner, mascara and eyebrow pencil off of my face. I also had to remove the black coloring I had put in my hair. If this is not an issue of obscenity, then it is an issue relating to my gender. The restrictions placed on me for the same actions carried out by females leads me to believe that I was discriminated against because I am a male.
Paly claims to be a progressive school that is accepting of all people, regardless of how they choose to identify themselves. Does this not make it contradictory to censor the way students choose to express themselves while telling those same students to be accepting of everyone else around them?
Paly senior Trevor Woon was also censored by the same Paly staff member. He was told that he had to zip up the vest he was wearing and remove the grill that he had in his mouth for his picture.
“I think it is ironic that the administration at Palo Alto High School doesn’t allow me to dress how I want for picture day, but constantly claims that our school is a place where we can freely express ourselves, whether it’s through speech or fashion,” Woon said. “It feels like [the administration] is deliberately trying to ruin Paly [senior] traditions. They said I can’t look silly and I said, ‘I don’t think I look silly,’ and then they just kept refusing my service until I changed my look and smiled for the camera.”
What Woon experienced was another example of Paly not allowing students to express who they are. Why should one staff member have the power to censor a student based on what he or she believe to be offensive? Would it not be better for there to be predetermined agreements upon what will be allowed and what will not? With rules, the students would be able to plan their outfits to ensure that they do not offend anyone, and if they break the rules they would be able to understand why the censorship is occurring.
If Paly would like to be the progressive truly, tolerant school that it claims to be, then it should refrain from censoring students so students will feel they can express themselves.