NEWARK, N.J. – The Newark city school district that ordered staffers to use markers to black out a picture of a male student kissing his boyfriend from all copies of a school yearbook now says it regrets the decision.
Superintendent Marion A. Bolden issued an apology to the student, Andre Jackson, according to a statement released by the district on Monday.
"The decision was based, in part, on misinformation that Mr. Jackson was not one of our students and our review simply focused on the suggestive nature of the photograph," the district said.
"Superintendent Marion A. Bolden personally apologizes to Mr. Jackson and regrets and embarrassment and unwanted attention the matter has brought to him," according to the statement.
The district said it would reissue an "un-redacted version" of the 2007 yearbook to any student of East Side High School who wants one.
Bolden, through a spokeswoman, declined a request for an interview.
At a news conference organized by Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, Jackson said he was disappointed that the superintendent had not told him she was sorry face-to-face and in public.
Because of that, he said he didn't accept her apology as sincere.
"I would accept an apology — a public apology," said Jackson, who found out about the district's statement through the media.
The district spokeswoman, Valerie Merritt, had no immediate comment on whether Bolden would call or meet with Jackson.
Jackson said his teachers, classmates and his parents all knew he was gay and that his sexual orientation was never a problem at school.
"I've never had to deal with this before," he said. "It's shocking. It's crazy."
In addition to Garden State Equality, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey also condemned actions taken by the district last week.
"With so many challenges the Newark Public Schools face in educating their students, what a waste that they took the time to teach a lesson in discrimination and censorship instead of equality and free speech," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs.
Previously, Bolden had described the picture, which showed Andre Jackson, 18, kissing boyfriend David Escobales, as "illicit."
"If it was either heterosexual or gay, it should have been blacked out. It's how they posed for the picture," Bolden told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Saturday's editions.
In the 4 1/2-by-5-inch photo, Jackson is seen turning his head back over his right shoulder and kissing Escobales, 19, of Allentown, Pa. It was blacked out after Russell Garris, the district's assistant superintendent who oversees the city's high schools, told Bolden he was concerned that the photo could upset parents.
The photo was among several appeared on a special personal tribute page in the yearbook.
Jackson, who paid $150 for the page, questioned the decision to black out the photo, noting that the yearbook is filled with pictures of heterosexual couples kissing.
Newark public schools have about 42,000 students.
The district is the state's largest and is one of three in New Jersey that are under state control. It is among 31 districts in the state's neediest areas that get special financial aid.