The principal at Georgia’s Collins Hill High School is apologizing and vowing to get to the bottom of a “racist” picture published in the school’s yearbook.
The Photoshopped image on page 148 – a young white man with a notebook that reads “Official N-word pass” beside a smiling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – ruined the yearbook experience for senior Aaliyah Williams, who told WJAX it “hurts me to the core.”
Williams said she was initially excited to pick up the yearbook from school on Tuesday.
“I’m excited for the yearbook. I get to see all the exciting memories and I open the book and I see this. And it’s like, wow! It hurts me to the core,” she said. “Of everything that’s going on right now, that shouldn’t be a joke. It shouldn’t be a joke right now. It’s nothing to play around with.”
Kavanti White, Williams’ mother, was also gravely offended, so she ignited a firestorm on Facebook.
“Her senior year she’s already had enough to deal with,” White said. “I’m offended. I’m offended only because who allowed it to get out? Where was your committee? I understand there are students on the committee but there are adults and teachers over the committee.”
Collins Hills Principal Kerensa Wing is currently working to get answers to those questions, she wrote in a letter to parents. Wing explained that the yearbook wasn’t yet complete when schools shut down for the coronavirus pandemic, and the yearbook company filled some pages with selfies submitted by seniors.
“This is unacceptable, and we are currently investigating to determine who submitted this photo and how our processes did not address this before it went to print,” the letter read.
Wing mentioned the possibility of using a sticker from the yearbook publisher to cover the image, which only created more controversy and generated a Change.org petition, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
“The 2020 yearbook that was handed out to students at Collins Hill High School is a symbol of racism by the placement of a single photoshopped photo that displays the exact problem with society today. We have received a email that a sticker will be made available to cover the photograph, I am not sure how placing a ‘bandaid’ will cover this up,” Sarah Mcneeley wrote in the petition.
“What will our children tell their kids about this ‘sticker’ when they flip through their yearbooks in 20 years? Every time a student looks back into this yearbook and sees or feels the sticker they will be reminded of the feeling they have right now,” the petition continued. “The current situation has brought more light to the fact that racial injustice is a huge problem in our country and needs to ACTUALLY have a change made and not continue to push it aside or cover it up.”
The petition demanded new yearbooks.
“The resolution that has been presented to us as parents and students of Collins Hill High School is unacceptable. The yearbook needs to be reprinted and paid for by whomever is responsible for the photograph and I ask that everyone sign this petition and reach out to any and every administrator to let them know our community will not stand for this,” Mcneeley wrote. “This is a time where we all need to come together and stand up for what is RIGHT.”
Wing quickly relented in a second letter to parents on Thursday.
“The replacement books will be provided at no cost to the student or family receiving the replacement book,” Gwinnett schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach told the AJC. “The school issued a recall of all the yearbooks and is asking families to return them. It will keep a record of who returns their yearbook. Students will need to return their yearbook to receive a new copy.”
Punishments for those involved in the image will be forthcoming, Wing wrote.
“Our investigation into how this occurred is still underway as I am continuing to meet and speak with students and their families. In addition, I am addressing the staff members who oversaw this process and we are taking action to ensure this does not happen again,” she wrote. “Rest assured, with both students and staff, I am following protocols for investigation as well as the consequences to be issued.”