NEWARK, N.J. — The city schools superintendent apologized to a gay student and his classmates yesterday for having staffers use markers to black out a picture of the student kissing his boyfriend, and called the incident "the hardest moment" of her tenure.
Superintendent Marion A. Bolden said she spoke with 18-year-old senior Andre Jackson a day after she issued him a written apology that said she regretted the decision to censor his personal page in the East Side High School yearbook.
"I've been superintendent for eight years, and this is probably the hardest moment because the last thing you want to do is hurt a kid," an emotional Bolden said.
Bolden said she arrived at the school yesterday to find Jackson reluctant to speak with her, but that the two spoke after she made a public apology to the assembled students.
"He said he felt a lot better," Bolden said. "He said he's had more issues around his coming out from outside school than in school, so it was particularly hard for him."
During her public remarks, Bolden said that the picture of Jackson kissing boyfriend David Escobales, 19, of Allentown, Pa., was not appropriate for the yearbook but that if it was to be removed, two pictures of heterosexual couples kissing should have been removed as well.
Jackson on June 25 had refused to accept Bolden's written apology, saying he wanted her to apologize publicly. He and others had cited the pictures of the heterosexual couples.
Bolden said she hoped the incident would lead to greater tolerance and acceptance.
"We have to own up to the fact that it was a homophobic moment," she said. "That's what everybody's afraid to say. There are sensitivity issues we need to talk about as a result of this."
Aside from paying $80 for the yearbook, Jackson had paid $150 for the special page, which shows pictures of Jackson and his friends.
The district said it would reissue an uncensored version of the 2007 yearbook to any student who wants one.
Garden State Equality, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, condemned the censorship, saying it violated the state's anti-discrimination law.