Photos of Hudson High School athletes removed from South Dakota governor's political pitch

Eric Marotta
Akron Beacon Journal
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 27 in Orlando, Fla.

Photos of Hudson High School girls on a website promoted by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem have been removed after concerns arose about the pictures being used for political purposes without the consent of the students or their parents.

The school district also is examining how to allow parents and the community to enjoy the accomplishments of student athletes while avoiding the use of those photos on the wider internet.

Why the Hudson photos were placed on the site for Defend Title IX Now is unclear. The site asserts that "only girls should play girls' sports" in response to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office that calls for an end to "discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation."

While some of the photos that were posted came from the school district's website or social media accounts, others were from online platforms not associated with the district, Hudson City Schools spokesperson Sheryl Scheatzley said.

"We will create additional internet protections that allow parents to continue to enjoy and use some incredible photos provided to us by our amazing event photographers," she said in a statement Wednesday.

State Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, first questioned use of Hudson High School athletes on a website Noem, a Republican, promoted in announcing the campaign to "defend women's sports" on Tuesday.

Title IX is a federal law that, according to the U.S. Department of Education, guarantees "no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

Weinstein called Noem's initiative "transphobic," meaning prejudiced against transsexual or transgender people. In a Facebook post, he called it a campaign to ban transgender athletes from high school sports.

When contacted for comment Wednesday, he said the privacy of the girls depicted on the site also is an important issue.

“Since writing to Governor Noem, I have received confirmation that the Hudson Lady Explorers' photographs have been removed from the website in question," Weinstein said in an email. "I am grateful that the photos were removed and will continue to fiercely advocate for the privacy and consent of all constituents in House District 37.”

In a statement, Noem's office said South Dakota does not operate the website that posted the photos, but added: "The rights to the photographs were properly obtained by the web developer. They’ve obtained additional rights to new photographs that are now on the website."

The governor's office provided an email for the website's operator, who did not respond to a request seeking comment and could not otherwise be identified.

Scheatzley said Hudson City Schools had also contacted the website operator and Noem's office through an attorney to get the photos taken down.

"The purpose of our students being photographed during competition is to honor our high school players as student athletes and to celebrate their accomplishments," she said. "In addition, we are protective of and do not condone any student photos being used for third-party purposes without prior district consent. Our trademarked logo is also in place to help protect our students and the Hudson City School District from third-party use without consent."

Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or emarotta@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarottaEric.