Yearbook Nightmares: Students Remembered for Fat Joke, Racial Pranks

Embarrassing yearbook pranks, mistakes can ruin a teenager's high school years.

May 15, 2009, 1:40 PM

May 18, 2009— -- In the ethos of high school culture, a misstep or slight can send even the most well-adjusted teenager into the throes of angst.

Now imagine a high school yearbook labeling a teen as "fat-ass" or a "faggot" or simply "Black Girl."

It's a nightmare kids across the country live every spring as the tightly bound yearbooks are distributed. But alongside the faces of smiling kids, sports moments and catchphrases, several schools each year find mistakes and pranks that are severe enough to make headlines and traumatize students.

Marie Gray,a 15-year-old freshman from Tonopah, Ariz. spent part of last week home from school after opening her Tonopah Valley High School yearbook to find that a mural of signatures inlcuded the words "fat-ass" scrawled under her name.

Another freshman student's name had been defaced with the word "faggot."

Gray told ABC News affiliate KNXV-TV in Phoenix that she's been teased before about her weight, but this was especially cruel.

"I didn't think someone could be that mean, to write it in the yearbook, where everyone could see it," she told KNXV. "I like myself for who I am, but I'm not happy about my weight and it hurts to have everyone talking about it."

Superintendent Mark Joraanstad told that while an investigation into how the insult got into the book, the yearbook's faculty advisor --a social studies teacher -- has been placed on paid administrative leave.

And after school officials were able to figure out which student was responsible for the hurtful prank -- a fellow freshman -- he was dealt with harshly as well.

"Suffice it to say he's no longer a student at this high school," Joraanstad said. "He's chosen to withdraw from the school."

But that doesn't erase his words.

Joraanstad said the yearbook was built using the publisher's Web site that allows students and the advisor to make edits before sending the final copy for publishing. He said officials are going through each entry to find out who made the changes and why the advisor never caught such a "very obvious" mistake even after logging more than 12,000 edits.

Joraanstad said Marie returned to school Thursday and told him she'd been greeted with support and empathy from her fellow classmates.

"The kids in the [yearbook] class are devastated by it," he said, adding some of them who knew her well were in tears.

'A Horrible Reminder of High School'

In Citrus Park Florida, a junior at Sickles High School has been the subject of ridicule after her yearbook was printed with what some say is a photo of her exposed crotch, which she said was taken when she wasn't wearing underwear under her dress.

Caitlin Darden told a Tampa-area news station that she did not mean to expose herself. Her mother called for the school to stop distribution and re-print them sans the controversial photo.

It's not clear if they will act on the request, but a Hillsborough County school district spokeswoman told the news station that the girl is not exposed and the portion of the photo in question is simply a shadow.

Dr. Nadine Kaslow, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University and chief psychologist at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, told that yearbook mistakes, whether honest errors or pranks, can be devastatingly traumatic to a teenager, causing them to be "disrespected, devalued, ostracized."

"It's a horrible reminder of high school," she said, "a horrible, painful reminder."

What happened at Charter Oak High School in Covina, Calif. last year was definitely intentional. More than 2,000 yearbooks went out last spring with the names of the Black Student Union members altered.

The fake names included "Teyshawn," "Shaniqua," "Laquan" and "Crisphy."

Back in 2005, Texas senior Shadoyia Jones was horrified when she saw the National Honor Society photo in her Waxahachie High School yearbook. All of the white students were identified by their names. But when the list came to Jones name she was labeled as "Black Girl." Jones was the only black person in the picture.

According to media reports, the school district issued an apology and asked the students to return their yearbooks so the offending page could be replaced with a corrected version.

Dealing With Hurt Feelings, Punishment

Kaslow said the racial and homophobic comments and pranks are especially horrifying because they put down not just one person, but an entire class of people.

"It's so important for people to be respectful for one another and some of these actions are just cruel," she said. "It's like where have we come if this is still going on?"

In the cases of Marie Gray in Arizona and the Charter Oak students in Calif., those kids were subjected to what amounts to "emotionally bullying," Kaslow said, likely by a group of students who are so insecure about themselves they felt compelled to slam others.

"They're really troubled in their own way and not really ready to move forward to the next step in life," Kaslow said, predicting trouble for the pranksters in college and the workplace.

She suggested school administrators not just punish the bullies with suspensions and detentions -- "that just makes them mad and doesn't punish them in any way" -- but rather with education on sensitivity and empathy so they can learn the consequences of their actions.

"Adolescence is hard enough," she said. "It's such a big deal then."

But for the kids tormented and humiliated by their forever scarred yearbooks, Kaslow said they'll only stay stuck in the humiliation if they don't muster up the courage to get on with things.

And that means no hiding in their bedrooms.