Utah high school 'learned lessons' after altering yearbook photos of girls

Officials at a local high school have "learned some lessons" after drawing national attention for digitally altering several female students' yearbook photos to heighten necklines, cover shoulders and erase tattoos.

Wasatch High School principal Shawn Kelly stopped short of saying the school had erred, but told Fox News things may change in the future.

“We’ve learned some lessons as to how to handle this better,” Kelly said.

Sophomore Haylee Nielsen’s pink blouse was edited to include a black tanktop, Kimberly Montoya’s got Photo-shopped sleeves to cover her shoulders and a tattoo on Shelby Baum’s collarbone was digitally erased.

Wasatch High students and graduates say the practice has been going on for years. Montoya said she was “shocked and upset” when she first saw her photo in the yearbook. “I was never notified my blouse was inappropriate and was never informed that it was going to be changed.”

According to Nielsen, many girls were “humiliated” by the noticeably altered photos they found of themselves in the yearbook. “They could have had us change or do re-takes,” she said. “It looks ridiculous.”

Baum was particularly saddened to see that not only had her neckline been raised, but the tattoo she shares with her sister and mother, which reads “I am enough,” had been digitally removed.

“Every time I look in the mirror or look at a picture of me that shows a little bit of my tattoo, it reminds me that I am enough the way I am,” Baum said. “For them to cover it up in the yearbook without telling us or sending us an email or anything -- I don’t believe that that’s okay.”

Baum said she was particularly surprised because she had previously worn the same blouse she wore on photo day to school on multiple occasions without being reprimanded. She hopes the school will consider issuing new yearbooks containing the original, unaltered photos.

Parents were not happy with the changes, either. Tricia Burgener, Nielsen’s mother, said she was upset because she sees her daughter leave for school each morning and feels she dresses appropriately every day, including on photo day. One of the student’s parents has reportedly already begun to seek legal action by hiring an attorney.

Following an onslaught of national media coverage, Wasatch County School District released a statement that was emailed to all parents and posted on the school’s Facebook page.

The statement said students were informed by way of a sign near the studio that if they did not comply with the school’s dress code, their photos could be subject to editing.

“It is understandable that students in violation of the dress code could forget that they received warnings about inappropriate dress,” the statement read. “However, there is no question that all students were advised that photos may be edited if the student’s dress did not follow the dress code.”

Yet none of the girls remember seeing any such sign or recall being warned that their photo could be changed. In fact, after the photos were taken, students were given the opportunity to examine their photos before they were submitted to the yearbook. Nielsen and Montoya approved their photos, which were unaltered at the time. This only added to the surprise when they received their yearbooks months later.

“When I saw my photo in the commons it had not been changed or edited at all,” Montoya said. “They said that that was to be in the yearbook.”

The alterations made to the yearbook photos were not consistent from student to student; shoulder coverings were added to one female student’s sleeveless denim vest, while another student wearing an almost identical vest was left untouched. Nielsen said she felt her personal group of friends had been specifically singled out.

“It’s like they targeted certain social groups,” Nielsen said of the yearbook committee. “They’re picking and choosing certain people--whoever they want.”

The statement addressed and apologized for the variance in editing. “The high school yearbook staff did make some errors and were not consistent in how they were applied to student photos,” the statement read. “The school apologizes for that inconsistency.”