Parents call school photo 'offensive and degrading'

Cartoon character school picture


It’s a school picture that makes jaws drop at just one glance.

More than a dozen students in Eileen Diaz’s Second Grade Class at Sawgrass Elementary are grouped together in three neat rows.

Some are smiling, some are not and one doesn’t even appear human.

Right smack in the middle of the photo is a cartoon-like head placed on the shoulders of a boy where his  face would be.

People who saw it called it “offensive” and “degrading”.  Parent Gabriella Cans, whose son is just a toddler, said she felt sorry for the boy and believes the image is humiliating.

The school’s own principal didn’t even see the picture until she got a copy along with all the other parents who ordered prints on Friday afternoon. Her assistant told me she was also outraged and ordered a new picture be taken this week.

So, how did it get there?

Broward County Schools directed us to the Davie-based private company that took the photo.

David Claussen and his wife own Broward County Pictures which they say has been in the school picture-taking business for 37 years.

He didn’t want to speak on camera, but off camera said the last thing he ever wanted to do was offend. In fact, he thought it was odd himself.

As he tells it, after the picture was taken a liaison with the Parent Teacher’s Association, that helped organize the photo shoot at the school, notified them that two of the students pictured needed to be removed because their parents did not sign a consent form.

Claussen said he was able to use the photo editing software Adobe Photoshop to lift one of the kids out, but had explained to them that there was a problem with the second student. He was sitting in the front row, right in the middle.

He showed me the notes he had written down on a white piece of paper as the pair discussed what to do. He said he would have gladly come out there to reshoot the image. Instead there was talk about putting a star over his face and then, he said,  the P.T.A. asked him to place a smiley face.

He’s never received a request like that before. In the nearly four decades he’s been in business he told Local 10 he’s never done such a thing.

The total number of pictures ordered: 14.

Local 10 spent much of Tuesday trying to find the student, and his parents, to get their take. Another parent told Local 10 that he’s no longer at Sawgrass Elementary and so may not even  be aware of the picture. School officials said privacy concerns prevented them from being able to confirm or deny if the student still attends Sawgrass Elementary.

It’s still unclear why the student sat for the photo in the first place if his parents never signed a consent form. A district spokeswoman called it an “oversight” but wouldn’t elaborate on who was at fault.

Both Claussen and school officials told Local 10 that it does happen from time to time that students have to be pulled from pictures after they are taken when it is later learned their parents did not sign the consent form.

The school has asked Claussen to return to the school to retake a group photo of Mrs. Diaz’s second grade to ensure that the picture doesn’t make it in the school’s yearbook.

Parents who ordered pictures will get a free copy of the new print.

One parent, who didn’t want to be identified, submitted this written statement to Local 10, “This is a great school and should not be tarnished by negative publicity that is being misinterpreted for anything more than it is…an oversight that has been corrected. This class teacher is an excellent teacher, the administration is very responsive.”

Meantime in an e-mail the school’s P.T.A. told Local 10: “The PTA notified photographer after finding out that a child didn’t have a signed media release form from the parent. Broward Schools Photography covered the child’s face using an inappropriate sticker. The PTA disagrees with how the photography company handled it and worked with the photographer to have the picture retaken this Thursday. Immediate action was taken on behalf of the PTA. We love and protect our children.”

Claussen’s business card includes this line, “Proudly Serving Broward Schools Since 1975”. He told Local 10 he’s part of the community and said feels badly if anyone took offense to the image and regrets that it ever even happened.

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