Chicago high school forced to reprint yearbooks after students flash 'white power' symbol in several photographs

The board at the Oak Park and River Forest High School, which is located near downtown Chicago and boasts of around 3,300 students, has voted 4-2 to approve a $54,000 contract to reprint 1,750 of its 'Tabula' yearbooks


                            Chicago high school forced to reprint yearbooks after students flash 'white power' symbol in several photographs

A Chicago high school is spending thousands of dollars reprinting its yearbooks after it emerged that students had flashed the 'white power' symbol associated with white nationalism in several photographs.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the board at the Oak Park and River Forest High School, which is located in a suburb eight miles west of downtown Chicago and boasts of around 3,300 students, has voted 4-2 to approve a $54,000 contract to reprint 1,750 of its 'Tabula' yearbooks.

The controversy stemmed from the fact that officials found 18 photographs of clubs and teams where students of "various races, ethnicities, genders, and grades" made the upside-down 'OK' symbol which, despite its admittedly innocent origins, has come to be adopted by far-right groups and the white supremacist movement in the past few years.

Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams detailed the incident in an email addressed to parents, staff, and students after the board's vote confirmed that the books would be reprinted, writing, "The photos in question, as well as other club/team photos in which students are striking poses and making gestures, will be replaced with straight-forward group shots."

"While putting stickers over the photos would be a cheaper solution, it would draw attention to particular groups of students and place a cloud of suspicion over all the students in those photos, regardless of whether they used the sign or not," she explained.

The decision to reprint the books was not one everyone agreed with, as the board vote indicated. One of the board members, Matt Baron, explained his reasoning behind being against the idea in a detailed Facebook post where he dissected how the students who made the symbol weren't predominantly white like he expected and how some of the symbols weren't, in fact, white power symbols.

"The vast majority (if not all) of the gestures that I saw are the above-the-waist and/or traditional upright 'OK' version, rather than below-the-waist and/or upside-down 'OK' version, which I understand is seen more as something appropriated by white supremacists," he wrote. 

He acknowledged and praised his fellow school officials being vigilant and "anticipating the harmful potential" of the photos, but insisted reprinting the books was not the solution. "One of my biggest concerns: that if we toss out these 1,750 Tabulas, rather than come to the thoughtful conclusion that they should still be distributed, we are playing right into the hands of all the haters whose evil is at the root of this corrosive and divisive angst—and worse—that we are experiencing," he explained.

School officials said they had not yet spoken to the students who had made the gesture and Pruitt-Adams' statement seemed to indicate that the guilty parties would not be punished.

"Those pages were reviewed and shipped to the printer in December, before the gesture was widely known to have any association with white nationalism," she said. "I want to be clear that we are not making any presumptions about students’ intent in using the gesture."