Yearbook photo shows middle school students holding up 'white power' sign

ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, May 30, 2019
Petaluma middle school to reprint part of yearbook after photo shows students holding 'white power' sign
A middle school in Petaluma is now working to reprint part of their yearbook after parents noticed students flashing an offensive symbol in one of the photos.

PETALUMA, Calif. -- A middle school in Petaluma, Calif., is now working to reprint part of their yearbook after parents noticed students flashing an offensive symbol in one of the photos.

Three students at Kenilworth Junior High are seen in the team basketball photo making an upside down "OK" sign-- a sign that has become known as a symbol of white power.

Parents and community members showed up at the Petaluma Unified School District's board meeting Tuesday to express their concern over the image and to ask why it fell through the cracks.

"They need to understand that the symbol they're showing has been taken over by some extreme white power people," Sheila Morrissey, whose children go to Petaluma Unified's Casa Grande High School, told ABC7 News. (Morrissey said her daughter's yearbook also includes photos with students making the same symbol.)

Earlier in the day, Principal Bennett Holley sent an email to parents addressing the photo at Kenilworth and asking students to turn their yearbooks back into the school.

Holley said the school plans to photoshop and then reprint the offensive photo on a sticker so students can put the new version directly on top of the original image.

"It's the perception of it, it's what it can mean to different people," Dave Rose, the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services with the Petaluma Unified School District, explained to ABC7, "And that's what was brought to our attention and that's where it became more of an issue."

The use of the "OK" hand gesture can also be associated with a game played by some kids called the "Circle Game." However, parents want students to understand it also has another meaning.

The symbol recently became associated with white power. In 2017, it started as a hoax by the website 4chan. Since then, however, some white supremacists have begun using the symbol, including New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant, who flashed the symbol during his court appearance.

Rose said the students involved with the photo have been disciplined and that the school is now working on a "bigger picture" effort to address the larger issue.

"This is an incident where we have two or three other incidents like this within the last 16, 18 months," Rose said. "This is something we cannot continue on this pathway. We need to look at something campus wide."

Zahyra Garcia, a community activist who attended the meeting, said she hopes that includes a conversation about representation.

"I can tell you people of color know exactly what that means," Garcia said of the "OK" symbol. "So, if we had more representation I think this would have probably been caught early on."