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I am the editor of my school’s yearbook. Can I get in trouble for having Senior Superlatives in the yearbook? Can my school stop me from doing this?

Question | Student Press
I am the editor for my school’s yearbook. Every year, there are a few pages dedicated to Senior Superlatives, such as “Cutest Couple,” “Worst Driver,” and “Most Likely to Live in their Parents Basement Forever.” Every senior has the opportunity to nominate themselves or another senior classmate for each of the superlatives. Although most of our superlatives are harmless and quite funny, some students have complained that other superlatives are hurtful and distasteful. The faculty advisor for the yearbook has told us not to do Senior Superlatives this year because she is afraid that we might get sued by the winners of the superlatives. Can she prevent us from having Senior Superlatives in the yearbook? Can we get in legal trouble for having Senior Superlatives?

Let’s first address whether a public school can prevent you from putting Senior Superlatives in the yearbook, which is actually a form of speech. The answer really depends on what kind of publication the school yearbook is. To really understand your rights, you should know the difference between the types of forums that speech can fall under.

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A student yearbook could fall under any of these forums. Click here for a list of questions to help determine if the student publication is a limited-public forum (this example involves a student newspaper, but the same questions can be used for a yearbook). The type of forum that the yearbook falls under will determine the full extent of student speech and press right afforded, and whether or not your school can prevent you from using Senior Superlatives. If a public school takes an active role in the sponsorship of the yearbook, then the school has a lot of power to prevent the superlatives from being published. And if the newspaper is a limited-public forum, then a public school may only prevent the superlatives from being published for legitimate pedagogical (or educationally-related) concerns. The following are a list of examples of legitimate pedagogical concerns:

  • Material that is ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences;
  • Potentially sensitive topics;
  • Advocacy of drugs or alcohol use, irresponsible sex, or conduct inconsistent with the values of a civilized society; and
  • Material that would associate the school with a specific political belief

Potential legal claims

Now let’s address whether you or a school could get in trouble for publishing Senior Superlatives in the yearbook, which really depends on the nature of the superlative. However, legal claims are rarely successful and vary state by state. 

Anti-Bullying Laws

A student who is harmed by a superlative may be able to sue the school that sponsored the yearbook for failure to implement or enforce anti-bullying policies. The issue here is that anti-bullying policies typically have a narrow timeline under which an action can be brought. Because Senior Superlatives are typically announced at the end of the school year before seniors graduate, it is difficult to bring a lawsuit in the appropriate timeline. The Superlatives are unlikely to cause a disruption at the school, unlikely to interfere with the educational opportunities of a student, unlikely to adversely affect the ability of a student to participate in educational programs, and unlikely to place a student in reasonable fear of physical harm. 

Invasion of Privacy – False Light

To win a lawsuit for false light, a plaintiff must prove the following: 1) the defendant published the information widely and identified the plaintiff, 2) the false information must be substantial, 3) the false information must be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and 4) the defendant knew or should have known the information was false. The issue here is that superlatives are typically opinions, and therefore, they aren’t technically “false” information. False information can be defined as facts that can be proven or unproven as true.

Invasion of Privacy – Public Disclosure of Private Facts

To win a lawsuit for public disclosure of private facts, a plaintiff must prove the following: 1) the defendant shared the facts publicly, 2) the facts shared to the public are private and not generally known to the public, 3) an ordinary person would find the publication of the private facts highly offensive, and 4) the facts shared are not a matter of legitimate public concern. The issue here is that no court has made a ruling as to whether a student yearbook is “shared publicly” enough, and the reason a student gets nominated for a superlative is because their features or traits were already known to the student body so these facts weren't private. 


Libel, also known as defamation, is a communication that harms a person’s reputation, deprives a person of a right to enjoy society, or harm’s a person’s ability to work or make a living. To win a libel suit, a plaintiff must prove the following: 1) the statement was communicated, 2) the statement was about the plaintiff, 3) the statement was defamatory, 4) the statement was false, and 5) the defendant has some sort of fault for the false statement. The issue here is again that superlatives are typically opinions and therefore, cannot technically be proven as “false” information. Click here to read more about libel.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

To win a lawsuit for IIED, a plaintiff needs to prove the following: 1) there was extreme and outrageous conduct, 2) the defendant knew or should have known the conduct would cause emotional distress, 3) the conduct caused the emotional distress, and 4) plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress. The issue with this claim is that it would be difficult to prove how a superlative would cause such severe emotional distress. 

How to avoid a lawsuit without getting rid of the senior superlatives

Consent is key! Consent is a powerful tool that can shut down most of these lawsuits mentioned. Think about implementing a policy that requires students to accept or reject the superlative nomination they have won prior to publication. You could even require students to sign a release as part of the acceptance of the nomination as an extra form of protection.


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