Teen Mom Photos Cause Controversy at High School

High school administrators don't want the teen's photos in the yearbook.

January 8, 2016, 12:41 PM
PHOTO: Self portraits posted to Instagram by Hannah Talbert and chosen for the yearbook are now at the center of controversy at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia.
Self portraits posted to Instagram by Hannah Talbert and chosen for the yearbook are now at the center of controversy at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia.
Hannah Talbert

— -- When Hannah Talbert, 17, posted photos of her growing belly on Instagram, she didn’t realize that it would become the focus of a debate over First Amendment rights.

“I had no idea it would turn into something much bigger,” Hannah told ABC News.

Selfies of Hannah posing in front of a bathroom mirror during her pregnancy were chosen to be part of a spread in the Surveyor, Mount Vernon High School's yearbook.

“We wanted to do more diversity in the yearbook instead of the classic 'homecoming' stories,” said Anderson Bonilla, editor of the Surveyor.

But the principal of the high school, Esther Manns, called both Talbert and Bonilla to her office to say the pregnancy photos were not allowed in the yearbook.

Bonilla asked for the principal’s decision in writing, and even took his concerns to the Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent.

Manns also told the students she did not want Hannah’s stomach showing and she feared the teen would regret the pregnancy selfies later in life.

But Hannah disagrees. “I think it’s just skin and just a baby in there. I’m not trying to be provocative,” she said. “I think it’s because I’m 17.”

Manns has given the students a list of conditions that must be met prior to the yearbook's publication, according to Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre. Among the requirements provided to ABC News are written consent from students to publish photos or quotes; removal of a racially charged word from the yearbook; and approval of pages by the principal before publication.

Hannah is excited that the yearbook's editors are pushing to include a spread on teen pregnancy. Hannah, who gave birth to a healthy baby boy seven months ago, has no plans of being a stay-at-home mom. The young mother is taking advanced courses with the dream of becoming a pediatric surgeon.

“I think that it’s important to be in there because there are a lot of teen moms at our school and it’s a really big misconception that you can’t be successful or happy or anymore,” she said.

And Hannah's parents have been supportive of her academic pursuits.

“A lot of teen moms drop out of school, and she’s trying to show that you can still go to school and get an education," said Tracy Perkins, Hannah's mother. "Going to school full time and doing all that stuff…yes, it’s hard but she’s still doing it and she’s doing it successfully."

Bonilla has decided to seek legal representation from the Student Press Law Center in what he calls a violation of his First Amendment and due process rights.

“We knew we would face challenges but we never knew it would go that far,” said Bonilla.

In a statement to ABC News, the Student Press Law Center said, “Common sense should carry the day and the school should realize that violating student free expression rights in an attempt to deny the existence of teen mothers is harmful to the community, the families, and the students involved.”

The final layout of the Mount Vernon High School yearbook is due this spring and Bonilla hopes the spread will be included.

Both Bonilla and Hannah stand behind the photos as a representation of their high school experience.

“I just think other girls should know that they’re not alone. And when someone tells you can’t do something, you want to prove them wrong,” said Hannah.

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