When Bowie High School teacher and yearbook adviser Donald Watson was suspended for failing to catch racial slurs and obscene remarks in the school's 1990 yearbook, his first response was "Why me?"

Six weeks later, with Watson at the center of a bitter community debate over his punishment, the English teacher is now asking, "Why only me?

"I kept saying it over and over again: Why me, why is this happening to me?" said Watson, a 22-year teaching veteran who was suspended without pay in late May when school officials discovered that two senior portraits were underscored with offensive passages that were spelled backwards or irregularly spaced.

"I think it is so unfair to selectively prosecute one person when yearbooks all over the county contain similar things," said Watson, who faces a dismissal hearing before a hearing examiner next Thursday.

With that in mind, Watson set out to review yearbooks from Prince George's County's 20 public high schools to determine if others contained scurrilous phrases or photos.

In two days of poring over stacks of yearbooks at school board headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Watson and his attorney compiled a report that, among other things, found that racial slurs and homophobic phrases accompany senior portraits in several other yearbooks in the county.

Hispanic students, for instance, are repeatedly referred to as "Tacos" and "Burritos" in yearbooks from High Point High School in Beltsville and Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, according to photocopied passages from those publications that are included in Watson's report.

In another case, the caption next to a black Bladensburg High School senior who was also a member of the school's yearbook staff read: "To all those who didn't like me, or didn't think I could make it . . . LET ANOTHER NIGGER ROLL." A white Bladensburg senior listed his nickname as "Niggerman" in his accompanying caption.

Yearbook advisers from those schools could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Watson's report, which he plans to introduce at his dismissal hearing, also found that virtually all of the county's yearbooks contain references to sex, drugs, drinking and violence in both phrasing and photos.

"The upshot here is that obscene and lewd remarks . . . are evident in the majority of the yearbooks," said Watson. He said he should not be held responsible for the obscenities published in the Bowie yearbook because he did not have adequate staff to review student submissions.

"What this says is that yearbooks throughout the county exhibit general bad taste and questionable moral standards, so I should not be singled out for punishment," he said.

School Superintendent John A. Murphy's decision to suspend Watson without pay sparked an uproar that brought 300 teachers, parents and students to a recent school board meeting to denounce the decision. Watson supporters, including people from outside of Bowie, said Murphy was using Watson as a scapegoat.

But in an interview yesterday, Murphy said all yearbook advisers who failed to catch obscene passages or photos in their publications will be held to the same standard.

"If other yearbooks are equally as vulgar, equally as objectionable or lacking in moral standards, then the yearbook advisers will be dealt with in the same way I dealt with Mr. Watson," Murphy said.

"We hire a professional teacher and put that teacher in charge of a yearbook and have to assume that the teacher has the wisdom to make decisions that are in the best interest of the children," said Murphy, who added that Watson should have spent as much time editing his own yearbook as he spent reviewing others.

But some teachers say yearbook advisers should not be held responsible for published obscenities unless the school system adopts a set of yearbook standards.

"The failure here is that {the remarks} were written in the first place," said Paul Pinsky, a Central High School teacher and former president of the Prince George's County Educators Association. "The failure here is that there is no set policy on senior comment pages. The failure here is that each school sets its own policy."

Some school board members said they favor enacting standards not only for yearbooks but also for all school publications in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. That ruling held that school districts are responsible for guarding against the publication of obscenities and offensive remarks or photos in all student publications.

"What this tells me as a board member is that we should have been looking at these yearbooks a long time ago," said board member Marcy C. Canavan (District 9). "I had no idea this kind of thing was going on in yearbooks. The board needs to establish some kind of standard before we wind up getting sued for offending someone."