New Jersey school district apologizes for removing picture of kissing gays

A New Jersey school district regretted ordering a picture of a male student kissing his boyfriend blacked out from all copies of a high school yearbook and apologized to the student.

Andre Jackson, the student, said he was disappointed that the Newark schools superintendent had not delivered the apology face-to-face and in public. Because of that, he said he did not accept it as sincere.

"I would accept an apology - a public apology," said Jackson, 18.

Jackson said he learned of the apology through the media.

The district issued a statement Monday saying it regretted the decision and that it would issue an unredacted version of the yearbook to any student of East Side High School who wants one.

"The decision was based, in part, on misinformation that Mr. Jackson was not one of our students and our review simply focused on the suggestive nature of the photograph," the district said.

"Superintendent Marion A. Bolden personally apologizes to Mr. Jackson and regrets any embarrassment and unwanted attention the matter has brought to him."

District spokeswoman Valerie Merritt said Bolden would meet with Jackson on Tuesday.

Jackson said his teachers, classmates and his parents all knew he was gay and that his sexual orientation was never a problem at school.

"I've never had to deal with this before," he said. "It's shocking. It's crazy."

Previously, Bolden had described the picture, which showed Jackson kissing boyfriend David Escobales, as "illicit."

"If it was either heterosexual or gay, it should have been blacked out. It's how they posed for the picture," Bolden told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Saturday's editions.

In the photo, Jackson is seen turning his head back over his right shoulder and kissing Escobales, 19, of Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was blacked out after Russell Garris, the district's assistant superintendent who oversees the city's high schools, told Bolden he was concerned that the photo could upset parents.

The photo was among several that appeared on a special personal tribute page in the yearbook.

Jackson, who paid $150 (111 EUR) for the page, noted that the yearbook is filled with pictures of heterosexual couples kissing.

Newark public schools have about 42,000 students, making it the largest district in New Jersey.