Parents question Fox Chapel Area’s longtime senior photo policy | TribLIVE.com
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Fox Chapel Area High School’s senior yearbook photo policy has some parents frustrated.

In a post this week on the private Facebook group Fox Chapel Community Lounge, which has more than 3,000 members, district parent Peri Unligil questioned the policy that gives seniors only one option to get their photo in the yearbook.

In correspondence to parents and guardians, the district said seniors must schedule a photo sitting with Hill’s Studio in Aspinwall and pay a $25 fee to secure a spot in the yearbook.

Students who don’t won’t appear in the yearbook.

Under the policy, seniors are not allowed to submit a photo from any other studio.

“Does anyone else feel that seniors should be given the basic opportunity to have a basic yearbook photo at the school?” Unligil asked in her Facebook post.

More than 55 comments posted in response to Unligil’s question, many from district parents, showed overwhelming support for a policy change.

Some said the issue should be brought up at the next school board meeting. Another post proposed starting a petition.

“I believe every student should have their picture taken for free on site,” parent Dianne Peterson of O’Hara, who has a child going through the process now, told the Tribune-Review. “Kids get their picture taken for free from kindergarten through 11th grade and, all of a sudden, it changes for 12th grade. It’s exclusionary and it’s not right.”

Peterson said she has no problem with Hill’s Studio, noting it is easy to work with, but she thinks the policy “needs to be freshened up a bit.”

Only Fox Chapel and Kiski Area school districts require seniors to book a photo sitting outside of school. All other Alle-Kiski Valley school districts allow seniors to have free photos taken during regularly scheduled picture days in the schools.

Last school year, 55 of Fox Chapel’s 329 seniors — about 17% of the class — were absent from the yearbook, according to district spokeswoman Bonnie Berzonski.

“It is not mandatory for students to appear in the yearbook,” Berzonski said.

Berzonski said Hill’s Studio has been Fox Chapel Area High School’s photographer since the 2016-17 school year, noting that the verbal agreement with the studio does not require a school board vote.

A faculty member affiliated with the yearbook selected Hill’s, and Berzonski said the agreement is decided “year by year.”

Town and Country Studio previously handled senior photos for the district “for decades” before retiring, Berzonski said.

School board members contacted about the policy declined to comment, referring questions to board president Terry Wirginis, who did not respond to calls.

Berzonski said the district has received a few calls from parents regarding the photo policy.

“I called the school over this policy and was told, ‘This is how we do it,’ and I felt disappointed,” Unligil said. “I’m thinking this is a policy from the 1980s or something and maybe it’s a long tradition that no one questioned. It made me feel like having every kid represented is not a priority for them.”

Berzonski said there is financial assistance available for any student who is unable to pay the $25 sitting fee and Hill’s will waive the fee if necessary.

The FC Helping FC Fund, funded through donations from district staff members, is available to cover sitting fee costs.

“There would be no proof required for a student to receive money from the fund to have a yearbook photo taken. The school counselors know our students quite well, and they would not let a student who was truly in need and wanted to get their yearbook photo taken not appear in the yearbook,” Berzonski said.

Hill’s Studio co-owner Mike Lloyd said the studio routinely waives the $25 fee if a student is financially burdened.

Unligil’s said her oldest son did not appear in the 2017 Fox Chapel yearbook due to a lack of communication.

“He didn’t have the form and I missed the letter and didn’t realize that pics were not taken at the school like most schools on picture day. I think every senior should be in the yearbook. It’s a year you will be looking back on,” Unligil said.

The district emails picture information to parents and guardians in June and again in September.

The deadline for senior photos is Oct. 19 and portrait packages offered by Hill’s range from $25 to $175.

Unligil said her son who is a senior at Fox Chapel this year plans to make sure his picture makes the 2020 yearbook.

“I think it would be great if Hill’s Studio would come to campus to take the pics and offer it as a more convenient option and have a more complete yearbook,” Unligil said.

Hill’s photographs students in grades 9-11 on campus at Fox Chapel.

When asked if the studio considered an on-campus senior photo option at Fox Chapel, Hill’s cited a more relaxed studio setting as one of the reasons.

“Yes, we could (go to the campus), but it would not involve the setting of our studio, which is a more relaxed environment and we can spend more time with a sitting. If we were at the school, we would have about 10 seconds with each senior,” Lloyd said.

Kiski Area High School in Allegheny Township requires seniors to pay a $20 sitting fee and schedule their photo session at Hour Glass Photo, located in Allegheny Township.

Kiski seniors may submit their own photos for a special Senior Tributes section of the yearbook for an additional cost.

“It’s been done that way here since at least 1985,” said John Swanson, Kiski Area High School librarian and yearbook co-advisor. “We encourage kids that have financial difficulty with the $20 sitting fee to see their counselor so that it can be waived.”

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