Independent schools spend thousands of dollars on professional photography. Then they spend many more thousands on the strategy, design, production, and distribution of marketing efforts for admissions, development, and alumni/ae relations. It’s no wonder I hear the panic in my client’s voice:

Client: We have to reprint the viewbook!

Me: Why? You have 4,000 left.

Client: Because the dark-haired girl on the cover left the school.

She was once a student in good standing—enough to be a cover girl—but now something has changed and she is gone. My first question is, “Why did she leave?” Perhaps the reason was financial or her family relocated. Maybe she was expelled or her parents are suing the school (or both).

Does it matter?

The answer can vary for legal, moral, and practical reasons.

When students leave due to relocation or graduation, there is no reason to stop using their images. Assuming their parents signed a model release that gives permission to use photos in unrestricted ways for an unlimited period of time, the school is safe legally. Current members of the community may squawk about how that student is now a junior in college or moved to Spain and “everyone knows it.” This is truer at day schools, which can have intimate social circles than at boarding schools whose populations are far-flung. But generally, “everyone” doesn’t know that a student has moved on, particularly not your target market for admissions, which is presumably unfamiliar with the school and its student body. And what if someone does know this student? The practical matter is that the photo is great and the student left in good standing, or graduated from this fine school and went on to an equally fine college. A wonderful proof point. I say, "Use the photo."

When a student has been expelled or a family has legal issues (or even a significant quarrel) with the school, it’s wise not to use a photo. Obviously, if you haven’t gone to press or the image is only online, it’s an easy fix. After a piece has been printed, however, the school needs to make a case-by-case decision. We’ve worked with schools that have reprinted 5,000 viewbooks and schools that have let it slide. The model release protects the school legally, but you still may feel uncomfortable.

Independent schools don’t have money to burn. They use their resources wisely and spend good money for excellent academic photography. It behooves them to get the most mileage out of the images they own, knowing when to remove a student who has left in the picture.


Photo: Michael Branscom

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