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The Charter Oak blame game

7/16/2008, 5 p.m.

After a whirlwind of controversy surrounding last month's yearbook fiasco at Charter Oak High School in Covina, school officials have presented a small fix to a large problem that has spurred widespread discontent. Apparently, irresponsibility can be covered up with a simple sticker as Charter Oak afforded Black Student Union (BSU) members the opportunity to conceal attributed fake names like "Tay Tay Shaniqua, "Chrisphy Nanos, and "Laquan White" with mere labels of their correct names when the bloopers were discovered at the close of the school year.
The offensive names were printed in the school's yearbook and appeared in the caption beneath the photo of the BSU members. Distressed families of the students have recently collaborated with the school's administrators to diffuse the racial warhead. Principal Kathleen Wiard said other corrective methods would be taken, "out of respect to them."
"We have found different levels of accountability at both the student and adult level," said Wiard to the Los Angeles Times, but failed to state what disciplinary measures would take place. She added there have only been a few requests for the corrective stickers, ultimately concluding that the vast majority of the school's 2,000 students still possess yearbooks with bogus names.
Students and teachers at Charter Oak may have known that racially offensive names were printed in the yearbook before all of the books were distributed, officials recently admitted. School Board President Joseph Probst said students may have alerted a teacher to the errors when the first round of books was released.
"Some people discovered the error first and they didn't react as fast as they could have," Probst said.
School officials claim that the names were put in place as fillers until yearbook staff members could replace them with the actual names, but were mistakenly published. Charter Oak student Joe Aragon is a witness first-hand to the mix-up and said that he was not on the yearbook staff but knows the student responsible for some of the errors. Aragon told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that even though he believed the mistakes not to be malicious or prank-influenced, "Simple filler names could be hurtful even if the intent was not to hurt anybody."
Principal Wiard recently noted that the reprint process of the stigmatized yearbooks is well under way although he is still unaware of the final re-printing expense. Waird said the publisher, Herff Jones, has been very cooperative and is offering much of the reprinting work at no cost to the school.
"Faculty members are editing lists of student names and correcting various errors throughout the book, including three sophomore students who were left out of the book," said Wiard. "The incorrect pages will be able to be removed without breaking the binding of the book and then replaced with the new pages."
After the school reviews the final proofs, the pages will take about two weeks to be printed. The school will then contact all 1,350 students who purchased a yearbook and instruct them on where to pick up the new pages.
Many BSU students and their families are pleased that officials appear to be responding, but wish the school would have acted more quickly. Others, including civil rights groups and government officials, deem the fake names to be racist and are demanding a formal apology in addition to the reprint of the yearbook.
In a recent discussion of the yearbook held by the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, forum President Earl-Ofari Hutchinson said, "I'm in the publishing business... a company can within five to seven work days have any written book printed...that's one week. This expedient process is called POD (print on demand)... it's done all the time... in any book you're going to find errors, that's why you have a second print to correct those mistakes. This irresponsible act by Charter Oak is not going to fly."
Los Angeles County Commission Human Relations Department representative Borden Olive, stated that he and his division were quick to get involved in the matter due to the outstanding urgency tended by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero. Both Olive and Romero was also present at the roundtable.
"The County Human Relations Committee feels that the African American students at Charter Oak were targeted when they changed these names, and that the school was slow to act when they complained...that's the main drag," said Olive.
Senator Romero expressed sincere disappointment in regard to what she said was a blatant act of institutional racism.
"I still have my high school yearbook; it's a testament to who I was. A yearbook is a historical record, and research on community stability shows that a yearbook means something. It shows the pattern of social integration in a community. It's a family photo... it's a history of that school.
"I'm outraged...this terrible act is highly offensive. These were young students on the verge of graduating; stellar performing students who went to pick up their yearbook and found their names changed. A name is the most basic identity of self... and for them to target African Americans with such stereotypical immorality is unacceptable.
"We called the school, we spoke with the superintendent and demanded that they meet with the area community and apologize to the parents, and then re-print, recall, and remedy the situation. But, on top of that and even more importantly was to demand the investigation and find out who and when they knew it, and to have the repercussion for those individuals," continued Romero
"If we cannot demonstrate to young people that there are consequences for blatant acts of racism today then quite frankly...I think that the message of racial equality at this historic time in our nation's history (referring to Barack Obama's Democratic nomination) will be lost on an entire generation," Romero said.