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Published: Thursday, March 25, 2010, 12:01 a.m.

‘God is dead' will be in Arlington yearbook, after all

An Arlington High School student started a debate across the country with his T-shirt last month.

  • Arlington High School senior Justin Surber wears his “God is Dead” T-shirt in February.

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Arlington High School senior Justin Surber wears his “God is Dead” T-shirt in February.

ARLINGTON — A photograph of a student wearing a T-shirt that reads “God is dead” will appear in the pages of the Arlington High School yearbook after all.
In February, school administrators considered excluding the photo over fears that it would offend students and parents.
Yearbook adviser Anne Hayman on Tuesday said it was decided that the Debate Club photo with senior Justin Surber wearing the shirt will be included in the “Stillaguamish Trail.” The annual also will include a story from the school newspaper about the controversy generated when Surber accused the school of censorship.
“My intention was to make sure we could run the picture, but also to make sure that if there were too many complaints that we didn't have to run it,” Hayman said. “I had students who came up and asked if I was going to put that picture in the yearbook, so I figured it was offensive to some kids and their parents might complain.
“I have no problem fielding complaints as long as I've done my homework and have a rationale for it.”
Hayman asked for a retake of the Debate Club photo on a day when Surber wasn't wearing the shirt with the famous quote from the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Surber, 18, refused to be in that photo. In a letter, he demanded an explanation from Principal Kurt Criscione.
Surber said he's happy that the original photo will be included in his senior yearbook.
“The news of this really makes my day, I had no idea,” Surber said. “I'm going to go give Hayman a hug.”
Surber has often worn the T-shirt to school since he got it in December and has never been told that it violates the school dress code. After he accused the school of censorship, emotional arguments among some students raged at lunchtime for days. Other students came to school wearing “God is alive” and “Buddha is fat” T-shirts.
Hayman went to Criscione to ask for his help after the first Debate Club photo was taken. Criscione in turn asked the advice of the school district's lawyer.
“Really, it was more of a fact-finding inquiry as far as checking out our options,” Hayman said. “In the meantime, the second photo was taken as a backup in case it was decided that we would not run the original Debate Club picture.”
In an interview in February, Criscione said: “The yearbook staff takes great pride in their work. They want to present the best possible snapshot of life at Arlington High School.”
He referred questions to Hayman this week.
Surber said his principal has never talked with him about the controversy. Hayman also did not feel it was necessary to talk with the student.
“Justin is a good kid, but he never came to me to ask what was going on,” Hayman said. “If I had found out from legal counsel that we should not use his photo, I would have gone to talk with him. In retrospect, we all could have done differently. It was one giant misunderstanding. Even though I turned it into a learning opportunity for the yearbook staff, we still lost three days of productivity because of all the hubbub.”
Hayman expects to send the final pages of the 250-page yearbook to the printer on Friday. Her staff of 22 has produced the best annual the school has ever seen, she said.
She's glad it's over. And so is Surber.
“I don't regret bringing this all up. It's been an education for me,” Surber said. “But as a guy at school said on a sign that he carried around one day, ‘Everybody's T-shirts are OK. Can we just get back to school now?' He's right.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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