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School's yearbook offensive to blacks

One page of photos includes fake names for African Americans and others at Covina's Charter Oak High.

June 28, 2008|Joanna Lin | Times Staff Writer

Administrators at Charter Oak High School in Covina are investigating how a student on the yearbook staff was able to get fake names for Black Student Union members, including "Tay Tay Shaniqua," "Crisphy Nanos" and "Laquan White," into the published yearbook.

Calling the incident a "regrettable mistake," Clint Harwick, superintendent of the Charter Oak Unified School District, said Friday that school officials had spoken to the student believed to be responsible.

Principal Kathleen Wiard, however, said they were still trying to determine who bore responsibility for multiple errors on a yearbook page that listed class councils and other student groups in addition to the Black Student Union.

"It appears that during the process of creating the yearbook, filler names were put in and not corrected at the proofreading part," Wiard said.

She said captions on photos attributed wrong or made-up names to other students but "the BSU ones were what I would consider the most offensive."

Harwick said he had a hard time understanding why the fake names had not been caught in the proofing process.

"We're doing everything we can to remedy the problem. This is not the standard of our yearbook by any means," he said.

The school has made stickers with the correct names available for students wishing to cover over the false names. Wiard said the school was also considering replacing the entire page because so many names, not just those of BSU members, were incorrect. Because school is no longer in session, students would have to bring their yearbooks to campus to receive the replacement page, she said.

Evanne Jackson, 16, who will be a senior this fall, received a handful of corrective stickers on the last day of school, June 12, to give to her friends.

"She was really humiliated and embarrassed," said her mother, Toi Jackson. "I'm not sure how they thought she was going to pass them out. What was she going to say? It's already embarrassing that (the BSU members) already have to be labeled with some negative, stereotypical type of names."

Jackson added that school officials have yet to formally apologize to her daughter or her friends, or inform other parents of what has happened.

At the suburban campus, largely empty this morning, Ashley Nolton, who will be a senior in the fall, said she learned of the fake names from news reports.

"It's disrespectful," she said. "It gives a bad name to the entire school."

Nolton said she thought the fake names had gone unnoticed by most students since she heard no talk about it at the school's annual yearbook signing party earlier this month.

She said black students, who make up less than 5% of the school's 2,000 enrollees, "tend to stick together." But she said she had never witnessed any racial tension on campus.

Wiard described her campus as "culturally diverse," with student relationships reflecting "a typical environment of a high school."

School board President Joseph Probst recalled at least one previous incident with "racial overtones" at the school, a fight involving some 200 students in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Still, he said he considered the yearbook incident isolated. He said his understanding was that one student was responsible and that school officials were still trying to determine an appropriate response.

"There's nothing in our policy that would go directly to this type of an action," he said. "It's not bringing a weapon, not bringing a gun. Does it rise to a hate crime? That's going to take some looking into before we do that."

Wiard said the school's foremost priority was to correct the yearbook names. She said officials were "dealing with the accountability issue at all levels" and had not yet determined whether blame spread to yearbook advisor Bonnie Shockey or multiple students on the staff.

If any student found responsible has graduated, Wiard said she would look to the district for guidance. She declined to comment on possible disciplinary actions.

Jackson, who said the school was insensitive to her daughter and the other club members, said she expected the school to take "significant" measures to correct the yearbooks and discipline any responsible student. But more than anything, she said, she hoped everyone in the community could learn from this incident.

"No one wants their character to be attached to something negative for nothing, for being African American," she said. "All I know is, at the end of the day, it's all wrong. It affects us, and it affects my child."

--

joanna.lin@latimes.com

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