Chicago High School Yearbook Had Photos of Students Flashing White Supremacist Signs so Board Spent $53K to Print New Ones

Oak Park and River Forest High School
The Oak Park and River Forest High School will spend nearly $54,000 replacing the yearbooks after students were found making the 'OK' hand gesture. Google Maps

A school is Chicago will spend tens of thousands of dollars reprinting its 2018-19 yearbook after several photos contained students posing with a hand gesture which has links to white supremacy.

Administrators at the Oak Park and River Forest High School announced it will spend a total of $53,794 to replace the 1,750 copies of "Tabula" after staff found 18 photos of students making an upside down OK hand sign.

In a letter sent to the community, Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said while the seemingly innocuous gesture could be interpreted as students of "various races, ethnicities, genders, and grades" playing what is known as the circle game, the upside down OK hand sign has also become associated with white nationalism and the far-right.

"I want to be clear that we are not making any presumptions about students' intent in using the gesture," Pruitt-Adams wrote. "Regardless of intent, however, there is a real and negative impact. Many students, not only our students of color, experience this gesture as a symbol of white supremacy. Potentially subjecting our students to this trauma is simply not acceptable.

"We are concerned that the gesture will become more closely associated with White supremacy in the future. Publishing the photos in question could not only harm students today but could subject students to potentially a lifetime of questions or penalty from colleges, employers, etc."

As reported by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the OK hand gesture being linked to white supremacy started as a trolling campaign by users on the controversial message board 4Chan. The "Operation O-KKK" campaign was launched to trick people into thinking the gesture—frequently used by President Donald Trump during his public speaking—was meant to promote white supremacy as the fingers spell out WP (white power).

"The 'OK' symbol hoax was so widespread in the spring and summer of 2017 that a number of people on the far right began deliberately to use the gesture—typically making the sign while posing for photographs uploaded to social media—in order to continue the trolling and spread it further," noted the ADL.

Pruitt-Adams explained that the yearbook photos were taken on October 2018 and shipped to the printer in December before the gesture was "widely known to have any association with white nationalism."

Brenton Tarrant, the New Zealand man accused of killing 51 people in the Christchurch mosque attacks, flashed an OK hand gesture during his first court appearance to face the murder charges.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Cubs banned a supporter from their stadium after he was recorded making the sign behind reporter Doug Glanville, who is black.

Board member Matt Baron was one of those who voted against replacing the yearbook photos. In a statement posted to Facebook, he explained: "One of my biggest concerns: that if we toss out these 1,750 Tabulas, rather than come to the thoughtful conclusion that they should still be distributed, we are playing right into the hands of all the haters whose evil is at the root of this corrosive and divisive angst—and worse—that we are experiencing."

The photos in question will be replaced with straight-forward group shots for the new yearbook, which will take up to four weeks to reprint.