Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parent's anger as school blacks out pupils' eyes in photos

Their eyes crudely blacked out to disguise their identities, these little girls look as if they might be the victims – or perhaps perpetrators – of a crime. But this disturbing image was actually issued in a school yearbook. It is the result of the bizarre ‘photography policy’ of headmistress Vicky Parsey, who bans parents from taking pictures in school for fear children’s faces will be superimposed on obscene internet images. Now two mothers of pupils at the school are stepping up their campaign against the ban in the hope they will be able to take photographs of the school’s nativity play.

Local MP Grant Shapps said the ‘absurd’ ban created a ‘climate of fear’ that effectively branded all parents paedophiles. Housewife and part-time exam invigilator Natasha Stannard, 39, and husband George, 42, have two children among the 450 pupils aged three to 11 at Applecroft primary school in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. They used to enjoy sending photographs of school pantomimes and sports days to grandparents in South Africa – but three years ago Mrs Parsey declared it had to stop.Mrs Stannard said: ‘I was looking forward to taking photographs at the school’s annual Christmas performance. ‘We were told in a newsletter “We will no longer permit the use of videos, photographs or mobile phone camera pictures of any children by parents/carers/visitors during performances and school events”.’

Mrs Stannard and her friend Caroline Baynes, 44, a project manager whose two children also attend Applecroft school, began lobbying the school to relent. Instead, the school produced a 17-page ‘photography policy’ , (pdf doc.), which states: ‘The proliferation of internet web pages and social networking sites has given rise to increased concerns that images will be misused and that a child’s face or body could be used to represent matters wholly contrary to the wishes of their parents.’ The photographs of children with eyes blacked out were issued in ‘yearbooks’ given to the parents of four-year-olds in the school nursery. Photographs of classroom activities were enclosed, but teachers had blacked out the eyes of all children other than the parents’ own. In effect, each parent got a customised yearbook.

Mrs Baynes said: ‘This “photography policy” has created an unnatural situation where you can’t take a photo of your own child. It’s the nanny state gone mad.’ Mr Shapps, a Conservative, said he had taken up the issue with the school with no effect. He said the blacking out of eyes was ‘creepy’, adding: ‘This is absurd – these pictures look like the kids have been taken prisoner. They have created a climate of fear, suggesting that every parent is a paedophile.’ Mrs Stannard and Mrs Baynes are surveying all parents’ attitudes to the draconian policy. They are being supported by campaign group the Manifesto Club, which warns there is a national problem with schools imposing such restrictions.

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