Chicago high schools pull yearbooks over alleged anti-Semitic and white power messages


CHICAGO (JTA) — High school administrators in two Chicago suburbs are halting distribution of yearbooks after students were alleged to include anti-Semitic, Nazi and white supremacist elements.

Highland Park High School, located 15 miles north of Chicago, is a leafy suburb with a sizable Jewish population. Students there are set to graduate May 29, but will do so without their yearbooks after two offensive quotes were reported by students to school administrators, who halted the yearbook distribution.

Each graduating senior was asked to select a quote. One that raised eyebrows among fellow students was attributed by the student to “Anonymous” but is widely attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s minister of propaganda: “If you tell a big enough lie, and you tell it often enough, it will be believed.” The other has not been released publicly but has been described as anti-Semitic in nature.

“Senior quotations are reviewed and approved by a team, and we take full responsibility for having missed the quotations that should have never been published in the yearbook,” Township High School District 113, which includes Highland Park High, said in a statement.

Highland Park Principal Deborah Finn explained the decision to halt the yearbook’s distribution.

“These quotations do not align with our mission and values and have no place in our learning community,” she said. “We actively work to eliminate hate speech and anti-Semitism in all of our learning spaces.”

Earlier, school officials in nearby Oak Park and River Forest High School had to halt their yearbook distribution after it emerged that 18 photos featured students making a hand gesture commonly associated with white supremacists. Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams sent an email to students and parents on May 17 explaining that the hand symbol — an upside down “OK” sign — “has different meanings,” but that it “has more recently become associated with white nationalism.”

Pruitt-Adams said she had no option but to halt the yearbooks’ distribution.

“Regardless of intent, the potential negative impact of this gesture has led us to decide that we cannot distribute the yearbook as it is,” she said.

The school eventually decided to reprint the yearbooks without the hand-symbol photographs at a cost of $53,000.

Both incidents echo a similar controversy last year at Andover High School in Andover, Massachusetts, when a student included the same quote attributed to Goebbels. In Andover, school officials stopped selling the yearbooks after concerns about the quote were raised and apologized for its inclusion.

Earlier this year, an Alabama Republican congressman referred to the Nazis’ conception of the “big lie” during a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. In that case, Mo Brooks was not endorsing the concept; he was unfavorably comparing Democrats and the media to Nazis who used propaganda to distort public perception.

A Chicago Tribune columnist was critical of the students who included the quotes, but said he was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

“Passing off inside jokes in the yearbook is a long tradition among high school seniors just trying to be funny,” Randy Blaser wrote. “It might be dumb, but not meant to signal a secret hatred or racist attacks.”

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