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Brandon yearbook ad sparks controversy

May 25, 2011 - Brandon Twp.- Stephanie Ratliff never expected to see an advertisement for a problem pregnancy center in a high school yearbook, but that is exactly what caught her attention— and outrage— as her son, a freshman, paged through the 2011 edition of Wingspan.

Ratliff picked her son up from school May 19 and in his hands was the new Brandon High School yearbook. As he flipped through the pages, she looked over and was shocked to see the word abortion. On page 237 of the book is an ad slightly larger in size than a business card that reads, "Problem Pregnancy Center, free pregnancy testing, abortion information, walk-ins welcome" as well as the address of the center in Oxford, its website, and a phone number.

"I thought, 'You have to be kidding me,'" said Ratliff Tuesday. "I'm not trying to make it into a political issue, but I don't think a high school yearbook is the proper venue for that ad. Other places would be more appropriate. It's devastating to me, as the mother of a teenager. It's not the high school's responsibility to provide information, or deem what is a problem pregnancy or the way to address a problem pregnancy. It's not cancer. It's very upsetting to me."

Ratliff said she had not known school districts to be as open or free with preventative measures for pregnancy, noting that would likely be perceived as promoting kids having sex. She wondered if district officials would have welcomed advertising from Trojan, a manufacturer of condoms.

Yearbook Advisor Cathy Ciesielski said she was notified May 23 by Principal Michael Ferguson that he had received a few calls from concerned parents.

The yearbook staff canvasses different areas, visiting businesses and selling ad space for publication. Students approached the pregnancy center, which recently changed its name to the Oxford Pregnancy Center, on two different occasions to ask if the center would like to purchase an ad in the yearbook. The center purchased the ad for a cost of $75.

"It's a reputable business in Oxford and I didn't believe that anyone would consider the ad to be offensive," said Yearbook Adviser Cathy Ciesielski. "I let the ad run because it is a legitimate business, addresses high school concerns, and that was it."

The 40-year teacher, who is retiring at the end of this school year, is in her sixth year as yearbook adviser and was the newspaper adviser for 15 years prior. She makes all decisions regarding advertising approval without input from administrators, and said she has only turned down an advertisement once— from a liquor store. Typical ads in the yearbook include coffee shops, restaurants, gift shops, mortgage companies, jewelers, dentists, and hardware stores. This is the first time a pregnancy center has advertised. It may be the last time.

Superintendent Lorrie McMahon called running the advertisement "a mistake."

To remedy the problem, Ciesielski called a yearbook representative from Josten's, the company that prints the books. Josten's has agreed to reprint the page for free for anyone who objects to the advertisement, replacing the ad with a Blackhawks symbol or perhaps a message congratulating seniors. Other ads on the page, including a half-page congratulatory ad from Belle Ann Elementary, as well as ads from a collision shop and law firm, will remain intact.

Advertising is crucial to keep the costs of the yearbook down for students and parents, who pay $70 for the yearbook if purchased at the beginning of the year, and $80 if purchased later.

"We parents pay for that journal for the kids," said Ratliff. "I can't imagine they are that in that much need of funding for advertising... I'm really saddened. I know it's the times we are living in, but it's a baby, not cancer. You don't just go and fix the problem. That's your blood. I want teenagers to know they are supported in keeping their children."

Darlene Hendrix, director of the Oxford Pregnancy Center, said the pregnancy center's board made the decision to advertise in the yearbook, the first time they have advertised in a high school publication.

"We have not done that in the past, but we are a warm, compassionate, non-judgmental staff and we want teens and women to know if they have an unplanned pregnancy, they have options," she said. "We do not provide abortions, nor do we refer."

Hendrix said the center provides information on the different stages of fetal development, the types of abortions that can be obtained at the different stages, and also gives information on adoption.

"I can understand that someone might be concerned we are encouraging abortion or teen pregnancy, but that's not the case," she said. "Teens also have unplanned pregnancies and we are here to help if needed."

Any students or parents wishing to have the yearbook page with the pregnancy center ad replaced can call the high school office for more information at 248-627-1820.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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