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Junior High Student Takes Aim at NRA Ad in School Yearbook

June 10, 2003|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

At the end of a long school day, Brytini Benjamin curled up in an easy chair and leafed through the pages of this year's La Mesa Junior High School yearbook.

After looking at photographs of classmates, organizations and faculty, the 14-year-old Santa Clarita honor student was surprised to find an advertisement for the National Rifle Assn.

The half-page ad featured the NRA logo of an eagle clutching two rifles in its talons, the text of the 2nd Amendment (which guarantees the right to bear arms), and a toll-free telephone number for prospective members.

"When I first saw that ad, I was like, 'Whoa!' " Brytini recalled Monday, one week after she received her yearbook. "I couldn't understand how there could be an advertisement advocating guns in a middle school yearbook."

Brytini contends the ad sends a mixed message to students on the Santa Clarita campus.

"You can get kicked out of school for bringing a replica of a gun, a squirt gun or anything that looks like a gun," she said, "and we have an ad supporting guns in the yearbook."

While acknowledging that the school district needs to do a better job of screening yearbook ads, Supt. Robert C. Lee said the ad and district policy agree.

"I don't see that they are in conflict," he said. "I would hope that if gun safety and proper gun usage are taught and advocated, that would be a plus for students."

After reviewing the ad, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said, "I am at a loss as to why anyone would consider this advertisement inappropriate. There is nothing inappropriate about educating students about the Bill of Rights. There is nothing in the ad that is remotely violent. We are exercising our 1st Amendment rights, and I think this is a valuable civics lesson."

Brytini expressed a decidedly different opinion of the ad to La Mesa administrators.

Principal Peter Fries told Brytini that there was nothing he could do because the yearbook already had been published. Undeterred, Brytini went to Vice Principal Rhondi Durand, who referred her to English teacher and yearbook advisor Monica Padgett, who said a student's grandfather placed the ad to show his support for the school.

"I think there are other ways to make money for the school," Brytini said. "Even though the intent was good, I don't know that it is the right thing to have in a middle school yearbook. There are no ads for alcohol and tobacco in the yearbook. Why? Because it would be inappropriate."

Although she graduated from La Mesa on Friday with a 4.0 grade-point average, Brytini said it is important to raise awareness about the ad so that it won't happen again.

"School is supposed to be a place where kids should be safe from hearing about weapons," she said. "I feel that if people know about this incident they will take more time to monitor the contents of the yearbook and the activities of organizations they associate themselves with."

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