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This photo of Sydney Spies, 18, was rejected by yearbook editors.
TODAY contributor
updated 1/9/2012 9:25:33 AM ET 2012-01-09T14:25:33

18-year-old Sydney Spies wants a future in modeling, and she figured she would make that clear with her senior picture in her high school yearbook.

But the Durango, Colo., prospective graduate found herself embroiled in controversy when her school’s yearbook editors put the kibosh on running a photo of Sydney posing provocatively in a black shawl and short yellow skirt that exposed plenty of skin.

Video: Yearbook photo too racy? Student fights back (on this page)

Sydney and her mother Miki Spies are butting heads with the yearbook staff and school administration over a case they believe smacks of censorship, and they appeared live on TODAY Monday to make their case that Sydney should be able to represent herself the way she wants in the annals of her school’s history.

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"I honestly think (the picture) describes who I am," Sydney told Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview. "I'm an outgoing person and I really do think it’s artistic."

Both mom and daughter say they’re particularly irked by the school’s mixed message when it comes to students showing off their interests in their senior pictures — and that there didn’t seem to be a problem with Sydney’s photo appearing in the yearbook until last week.

Sydney says she submitted the photo to the yearbook staff, and they approved it shortly before Christmas. But after the school’s Christmas break, staff told her the photo was unacceptable. They asked her to submit a second photo, and Sydney agreed; but staff found the image of her wearing a form-fitting, black mesh strapless dress no less racy.

She believes the school brass had a hand in the reversal: "I think it was the administration," she told Lauer. "They had a meeting with the principal and the next day their whole decision changed and completely against me."

But school yearbook staff say a precedent was set two years ago when the yearbook nixed a photo of a shirtless male student. And editor Brian Jamirillo said the award-winning yearbook has a standard to uphold.

"We didn’t want this picture to make our publication seem unprofessional and inappropriate," he told NBC News' Tamron Hall.

Mom Miki has stood by her daughter, even joining her in waving placards in protest outside the school. But she told Lauer that even she had initial misgivings.

"I asked her not to do it," she said. "I said, 'Sydney, really, is this the one you want?'"

But Miki Spies told Hall she now views the photograph through her daughter’s eyes. "Now, looking at the picture, I see it the way Sydney sees it. It’s artistic. It’s stunning."

This is the second photo Spies submitted to her high school's yearbook committee; it, too, was rejected.

And, despite the fuss, the picture is still getting into the yearbook — by way of Sydney’s pocketbook. Yearbook staff said they are willing to run the picture as a paid ad in the back of the book, setting Sydney back $300.

But it’s left Sydney with a bad taste in her mouth: "If it's going to be in the yearbook anyway, then why should I not be able to have it as my senior picture?" she told Lauer. "That’s what I don’t understand."

The Spies are considering legal action against the school, and the Colorado Student Press Law Center indicate they may have a case. According to a Colorado state statute, "students of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of the press” and “no expression contained in a student publication, whether or not such publication is school sponsored, shall be subject to prior restraint."

But for her part, Sydney says she just hopes the school reverses its decision.

"It’s illegal for the administration to get involved, so that’s why we’re even considering (legal action)," she said.

The yearbook’s faculty advisor Tammy Schreiner denies she or the school administration played any part in the yearbook’s staff decision to disallow the photograph.

"There was absolutely no influence or any kind of coercion whatsoever," Schreiner told NBC.

Do you think Sydney Spies' photo is too revealing for a high school yearbook? Vote below!

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Vote: Are one woman's photos too inappropriate to go in a yearbook?

Video: Yearbook photo too racy? Student fights back

  1. Closed captioning of: Yearbook photo too racy? Student fights back

    >>> we're back with a controversy brewing at a colorado high school over one student's yearbook picture . we'll talk to her exclusively in a moment. first tamron hall has her story.

    >> choosing a senior yearbook photo is an opportunity for kids to show individuality. when acid sydney spies submitted her photo the all student editorial board were going to use it but changed their mind.

    >> as students we have the right to express what we want to be. there are students who like sports. if i like modeling i should show that.

    >> reporter: for other magazines and stuff it's a really good photo . for a high school yearbook it's not appropriate.

    >> an aspiring model, spies subjemitted a second picture . that, too, was rejected.

    >> reporter: her mother understands her daughter's self-expression could bring on a painful backlash.

    >> i knew people would react this way. she was adamant. looking at the picture , i see it the way sydney sees it. it's artistic. it's stunning.

    >> the school administration insists they played no part in the all-student editorial board 's decision.

    >> reporter: there was absolutely no influence or any kind of coercion whatsoever.

    >> that's a pretty one.

    >> over the past few year it is yearbook has won several awards. that legacy contributed to the rejection of sydney 's photo .

    >> reporter: we don't want this picture to make it seem unprofessional and inappropriate and for people to discount our hard work we spend weeks and months working on.

    >> in a twist, sydney can use the picture of her choice if she pays to put it in as an ad.

    >> reporter: i'm spending $300 of my own money to have that picture in the yearbook .

    >> with her high school career winding down, sydney is learning that just trying to be yourself isn't as easy as it sounds.

    >> reporter: i just didn't want to be boring. i'm not a person who's going to stand against a wall and smile.

    >> this is an interesting question of self-expression. sydney can submit the picture of her choice but the editorial board has the right to choose what it feels is appropriate for the yearbook . matt?

    >> reporter: thank you very much, tamron. sydney spies is here with her mother. good morning to you both.

    >> good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> this was posted in your high school paper on friday. a classmate wrote that the senior portrait isn't about a first impression. it's about the last impression, the image of you that will be immortalized. do you agree? and why do you want that photo to be that image?

    >> i really honestly think that it describes who i am. people can take it however they want, that i'm an outgoing person and i really do think it's artistic. like i said, people have their sports pictures, pictures with their horses or guitars. that's my interest.

    >> i was reading this last night. i incorrectly assumed when i first heard the story i said, okay, this is a bunch of faculty members that got together in the administration and said, this isn't the image we want for our school. then i realized, no, these are your peers. this is an editorial board made up of other students. it surprised me that they drew this hard line . did it surprise you?

    >> yeah, especially because they agreed to it in the first place. before any of this there was a 4-1 vote in my favor.

    >> what do you think changed their mind?

    >> i think it was the administration. they had a meeting with the principal and the next day their whole decision changed completely against me. they were completely against the picture .

    >> which is not supposed to happen. they are supposed to be independent of the school. isn't that correct?

    >> exactly.

    >> another thing that caught my attention is that they don't want this to be your official yearbook portrait. but as you mentioned in the piece that tamron showed us, they're okay if you buy an ad page in the book and put that photo as part of that page. so $300 make it okay.

    >> yeah.

    >> what was your reaction when you learned that?

    >> if it's going to be in the yearbook anyway, why should i not be able to have it as my senior picture ? that's what i don't understand.

    >> as a mom, when i look at the picture it's provocative. you say it's beautiful and artistic and i guess it is artistic. it's also not the run of the mill yearbook photo . you say you knew it would cause a reaction. did you think it was entirely appropriate?

    >> oh, i asked her not to do it. i said, sydney , really, is this the one you want?

    >> what about the second photo ?

    >> i didn't think that was nearly as provocative.

    >> yet you are supporting her on this. do you disagree with the editorial board 's decision?

    >> when your child is spreading her wings, you just want to come alongside and support them. that's what i'm doing as a mother.

    >> do you plan to take this further, sydney ? do you plan to file some kind of a suit which would draw more attention obviously to the situation? are you willing to take it that far?

    >> i don't know if i want to go that far with it. i'm still hoping that they might let me have that picture in there. but it's illegal for the administration to get involved. so that's why we have considered that option.

    >> is this going to end up with a picture of you in the yearbook that's the classic standing against a wall smiling like every other photo ?

    >> definitely not. i will find something.

    >> the principal asked when we had the meeting on friday, sydney , do you not want any picture in the yearbook ?

    >> would that be an option you would consider?

    >> if i submit another one they think is a little bit provocative, i feel like -- that second picture , i feel they are censoring me because of the situation. if they're going to censor that picture i feel they have to censor everyone. there were people saying, if they censor that they should censor my picture . i have a strapless dress.

    >> it's a slippery slope .

    >> yeah.

    >> nice to have you here. we want to know what you think about this. should sydney be allowed to use her picture , either picture as her senior class portrait? log onto today.com to share your


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