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Oak Park and River Forest High School, Oak Park, Ill.

Oak Park, Ill., high school will reprint yearbooks after discovering offensive photos

The 2018-2019 Oak Park and River Forest High School yearbook was found to have more than a dozen photos of students engaging in a hand gesture associated with white nationalism.

A school district in suburban Chicago has decided to reprint its 2018-2019 high school yearbook after discovering that it contained more than a dozen photos of students engaging in a hand gesture associated with white nationalism.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Oak Park-River Forest District 200 will pay Jostens $53,794 to reprint the Oak Park and River Forest High School yearbooks, and officials say they hope to have the new books delivered to students by mid-June. To cover the cost of the reprint, administrators say they will transfer funds from the district’s furniture budget to the general budget for the one-time expense.

The yearbooks in question—1,700 copies—have been printed and are at the high school but have yet to be distributed.

Last week, administrators announced the yearbooks would not be distributed after officials found 18 photos inside of students making an upside-down “OK” gesture. The school said the students flashing the sign were of “of various races, ethnicities, genders and grades.”

The district  explored options such as cutting some pages out of the yearbook or placing stickers over the photos in question, but those remedies were deemed infeasible.

The “circle game” hand gesture began as part of a juvenile “made-you-look” game, but has been appropriated in recent years by white supremacists.

Members of online group 4chan first began using it as a way to trick others into thinking they were seeing “white power” symbols everywhere. More recently, though, organizations like the Anti-Defamation League say the hand gesture has morphed into an authentic hate symbol.

School officials said they are concerned the gesture will become more closely associated with white supremacy in the future and pictures of them flashing the sign could harm students when they’re applying for colleges or trying to find employment.

The school board was divided on the issue; members voted 4-2 to approve the reprinting contract with Jostens. 

“We never said the book was not coming out,” Board President Jackie Moore said. “At the end of the day, integrity matters. I would never want a symbol of this high school to represent, for anybody, harm. That is what the potential is for having this book come out as-is. If we care about all of our students, we have to stand behind them. We have to do better. I am not willing to do that on the back of students who would be harmed by this.”

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