A two-page timeline of the 2020-21 school year was ripped out of Bigelow High School yearbooks before they were distributed, according to the Student Press Law Center, which condemned the action as censorship.
The timeline's title was "From a deadly pandemic to a global movement for racial justice, this year had its fair share of world-changing events."
It included references to the spread of covid-19, police shootings of Black people, and former President Donald Trump's claims he won the 2020 election.
School officials said there had been "community backlash" about the timeline, according to the center's post at https://splc.org/2021/08/censorship-alert-arkansas-high-school-cuts-pages-from-yearbook.
Meghan Clarke Walton, the yearbook adviser, resigned over the censorship.
"For the record, I did not authorize the removal of these pages, nor do I support it in any way," she wrote on Facebook.
Besides being the yearbook adviser, Walton also taught English and journalism at the school.
"Deciding to resign was the most difficult decision I have ever made," she wrote on Facebook. "However, I needed to stand up for myself and for the students who created that yearbook spread."
Walton declined to talk to a reporter from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but she and others from the school district had a lengthy conversation about the yearbook on Facebook.
In that conversation, Walton wrote that she wasn't required to get the yearbook copy approved before printing.
"The information included in the missing pages was 100% journalistically sound (i.e. accurate and unbiased)," she wrote. "I stand by it. I did not create the pages nor the content it included. However, as advisor, I did make a poor judgement call by approving the spread for publication. I obviously did not anticipate the community to react like it has. I never intended to create such an uproar. I was just trying to support my students."
More than 100 yearbooks had the pages ripped out of them, wrote Walton. About 15 yearbooks that were sold during the first day of distribution are the only ones that have all the pages, she wrote.
The yearbooks were distributed July 28 and Aug. 3, according to an Instagram post.
Located in Perry County, Bigelow High School enrolled 285 students last year. It is part of the East End School District.
The timeline included the U.S. Capitol riot and the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Daunte Wright.
The entry for Nov. 3, which was the day of the presidential election, read only: "After an earlier attempt to delay voting, President Trump claims he won the election and tells officials to stop counting votes."
The Jan. 6 entry read: "The U.S. Capitol is stormed by a mob of protesters."
Neither Superintendent Heidi Wilson nor Bigelow High School Principal Jeff Gifford could be reached for comment Monday.
Gifford helped Walton pack up her classroom, according to a Facebook post Thursday.
"I truly believe he was stuck between a rock and a hard place with this situation, and he has never been anything but kind and respectful to me," Walton wrote on Facebook. "In fact, when I went to pack up my classroom last night, he helped me clean and pack it up, and then helped my husband load it all up into our vehicles. ... I'm honestly disappointed that I will not get to work with him."
Robert Steinbuch, a professor of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an expert on free-speech issues, said he wasn't a fan of school administrators censoring students or faculty.
"It continues to boggle my mind that schools aptly teach that American soldiers died to protect our free-speech rights, yet unelected bureaucrats routinely trample those same God-given rights," he said.
Hadar Harris, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which is based in Washington, D.C., said there have been incidents at other schools regarding yearbooks.
"The controversy at Bigelow High School is only the latest in a number of egregious censorship cases that we have seen in yearbooks across the country this year to wipe certain aspects of the past school year out of our collective memory," Harris said in the center's online post. "We are very concerned that this is just the tip of the iceberg for both yearbooks (which are currently being released) and for student newspapers beginning to report on the new school year."
She cited examples, including George S. Middleton High School in Tampa, Fla., where the student-written yearbook was replaced by a yearbook that was produced by an external company.
"The new book excluded most student work, including the students' coverage of covid, the 2020 election, and most school sporting events," according to the center.
"Yearbooks are an important historical record of events that take place both within the school community and in the world at large," according to the Student Press Law Center. "Student journalists work hard throughout the year to document events in their communities and craft the yearbook. SPLC supports the rights of student journalists to produce content at their sole editorial discretion and condemns these efforts to rewrite history and erase the events of 2020-2021."