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Menahga yearbook policy under scrutiny

A group of students and parents in Menahga are upset over a decision by school administrators to exclude some photos from the school's yearbook.

One student wanted to have her baby included in her senior photo and other students are asking to have a memorial page in the yearbook for Kyle Kenyon, who committed suicide last January.

School administrators have said no to both requests.

Kyle's mother, Peggy Havnes, said she supports the students who want to have a memorial for her son in the yearbook.

"I think it could be used as a teaching tool with a message of suicide prevention," she said. "The school thinks that putting a memorial in the yearbook is glamorizing suicide but that's not what the students are doing."

Patricia Samuelson, the parent of a Menahga senior, said she and several other parents are appealing the decision and are garnering support from others in the community.

"My daughter is a senior and was good friends with Kyle," Samuelson said. "His suicide hit us hard. I think we need to talk about it and educate students."

News of the issue spread like wildfire on Facebook pages over the weekend. Twin Cities TV stations were contacted and ran stories on the controversy.

"We made the decision not to include memorials in the annual while we were updating the Crisis Management plan last fall," said Superintendent Mary Klamm in a statement issued Tuesday morning. "During the updating process we took quite a bit of time focusing on what to do after the death of a student, faculty member or parent of a student, because our plan was incomplete. We made the decisions based on what we felt was best for our students and what research says is best practice. Senior class advisers had been working with the seniors to determine options to the memorial page - but we were taking baby steps and the Facebook/media event made us take a leap that we weren't prepared for.

"I have been in contact with other administrators who have dealt with similar situations and personnel from Prairie St. John's, who visited with our staff last year after our student's death. It seems we are not the only ones dealing with students and members of the community circumventing the decision making process and taking an issue straight to the media through Facebook. I believe it's a 'new normal' that schools will simply need to figure out how to deal with and address."

Samuelson and Havnes are trying to get on the school board's next agenda to make their appeal.

"I really think the yearbook should be up to the kids and include what they want," Havnes said.

Klamm said school staff will continue to work with students on other options.

"At this point we are working to go back to having conversations with students about what options are available that will remember the person who died, but also not put other students at risk," Klamm said. "We had already planned to have a Crisis Line Prevention Presentation by Northern Pines Counseling on Nov. 12. The counselors will be available to meet with students throughout the day. After the day with the students, the counselors will help us determine what steps we need to take next."

Klamm had this to say about the student who wanted to have her baby with her in the yearbook: "The student composite picture is about the student and we have never allowed other people to be in the picture. This issue landed on the principal's desk in the form of a petition and then went straight to the media outlets through Facebook. Without going through the channels of communication, the school's communication/problem solving process was again interrupted."

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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