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High School to Allow Banned Photo in Yearbook

Administrators at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton have reversed their stand and now will permit a yearbook photo of student with a temporary face tattoo and large nose ring. An ACLU attorney said the attempted ban infringed free speech.

Kenton Koos' senior picture will run in the Amador Valley High School yearbook after it was initially rejected by school administrators for being inappropriate.

The yearbook photo flap started when the school administration received a copy of his picture, which had been taken in October. In the photo, Koos, 18, sports a large nose ring and a Mike Tyson-type of tattoo on his face.

Koos, 18, said in an interview with Pleasanton Patch Wednesday that before he had the picture taken, he checked with his yearbook advisor and editor, Julie Foley, about his plan and was given permission.

So Koos went to the mall with his mom, Kathy Koos, to get a removable tattoo applied. Koos, who normally looks clean-cut, said he added the nose ring and hairstyle right before the shoot.

"I just wanted to do something fun," Koos said.

When asked why he chose the Mike Tyson look, Koos said he "just thought it looked cool." According to Koos, the photographer tried to talk him out of going through with the photo but he stuck to his guns.

Koos said his mom got a call from Vice Principal Rick Sira last week telling them the picture could not be used in the yearbook. Koos decided he was not going to give up and he contacted the media.

"My friends have been surprised it became such a big deal," Koos said. "I have taken 12 school photos while in the Pleasanton Unified School District,  and I have followed the policy until picture 13.

The Contra Costa Times reported that ACLU attorney Linda Lye called the ban a "blatant violation" of a provision in the state's Education Code, which protects freedom of speech in school publications.

Kathy Koos has been supportive of her son from the beginning and feels he has a lot of strength.

"Kenton said 'no, it was his right to use the picture he wanted'," she said. "The school was very positive and said they just didn't want it in the yearbook. Sira handled it politely and professionally and even tried to offer a compromise. My only regret — and I don't regret the photo — is that we did not give (the principal) a heads up."

Kathy says they have learned a lot from this ordeal.

"It taught me that we can disagree on an issue but the bottom line is that he is my son, and I am going to back him up," she said. "Where do you draw the line? If a look offends someone? Dreadlocks? Or even cheerleading outfits can be offensive to some. The world isn't a pretty, perfect place. It doesn't ruin the yearbook with one photo. If that is how you want to be remembered, it is up to you."

According to Koos, he had a 3.0 grade point average while attending Amador Valley High School. He has been doing independent study for the last quarter, while working 30 to 40 hours a week and volunteering for a feral cat foundation. While at Amador Valley, Koos played lacrosse.

Since the story became public, the school has decided to use the picture in the yearbook.

"Principal [Jim] Hansen called and said they were going to accept the photo," he said. "He asked if I was sure I wanted to do this, and I told him I would think about it and let him know. I am going to tell him I want to use the photo. I feel pretty strong in my convictions."

Odie Douglass, speaking on behalf of the Pleasanton Unified School District's Superintendant Parvin Ahmadi said, "Students can have freedom of expression as long as it is not profane, sexual or racial."

What do you think about the yearbook photo controversy? You can tell us in the comments section.

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