Berkeley High School Recalls Yearbook Due to Offensive Comment

Berkeley High School.  (Berkeleyside/Melati Citrawireja)

Note: This story has been updated with a clarification (see end of post).

This year’s Berkeley High student yearbook was recalled Wednesday after an offensive comment about one of the campus's small schools, the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), was discovered on one of its pages.

The text published in the yearbook describes AMPS, which has a high concentration of African-American and Hispanic students, as “a small learning community focus [sic] on medicine, making our future doctors, dentists, nurses, physicians, fire chiefs and trash collators [sic].”

In an email to Berkeley High families Wednesday night -- the school's third email of the day on the subject -- Interim Principal Kristin Glenchur wrote: “As you may know, an offensive and racist phrase was discovered on the AMPS page of the BHS yearbook. Our investigation to this point indicates that the original text of the page was maliciously replaced. ” She continued, saying it had been difficult to pinpoint who was responsible, as so many people were involved in the compilation of the yearbook. The entire yearbook staff has assumed collective responsibility for the incident. (Read her full email.)

The community was first alerted to the yearbook page by an email sent out around 2 p.m. Wednesday by BHS Vice Principal Daniel Nube, who said the 2015 yearbook was being recalled. He requested that students turn in their copies to the front desk with their names written in them. He did not say why the recall was necessary or who was responsible for writing the text.

The excerpt from the Berkeley High School 2015 yearbook that triggered a recall.
The excerpt from the Berkeley High School 2015 yearbook that triggered a recall. (Twitter/@berkeleyBSU)

“We are keeping careful track of yearbooks that are being turned back in,” Nube wrote. “After a few days they will get their same yearbook returned to them. No personal information will be looked at.”

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About an hour after Nube’s email went out, Glenchur also sent out an email through the Berkeley High e-tree, saying that the school would be removing the offending page and would meet with the AMPS community.

“We’ve met with Yearbook staff and are investigating how unedited and inflammatory language about AMPS appeared in the yearbook,” Glenchur wrote. “Staff is recalling all yearbooks, replacing the text, and organizing a time to meet with the AMPS community next week.”

“They’ve stopped production of the rest of the books,” said Mark Coplan, spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District. “I’m not exactly sure what the resolution will be.”

The yearbook is compiled by a student staff with the help of a faculty adviser, Gabriel Berent. Glenchur mentioned him in her email without explaining his position as the yearbook’s faculty adviser.

“I know Gabe Berent is devastated by the error that has caused pain to so many and, though nothing can undo what was done, he and his staff are working very hard on a response and a process that will keep this from happening in the future,” Glenchur wrote.

Berkeleyside was unable to reach Berent for comment.

Referring to the yearbook comment on Twitter, Kadijah Means, president of the Berkeley High Black Student Union, wrote: “There is no excuse for this honestly.”

Errors in the yearbook are not uncommon, but generally don’t extend beyond spelling mistakes or the occasional switching of one student’s photo with another.

“I have to note that, prior to Gabe’s work with the yearbook, an even more egregious and base level lack of editing existed,” Glenchur said in the email.

The school will be moving forward with a “restorative justice process,” Glenchur wrote, and each AMPS senior will receive a free edited yearbook. The school will also provide a free AMPS community photo. Glenchur asked that the community “reserve judgment” of those involved until the roots of the incident can be further investigated.

Yearbook distribution will be halted “until the language is replaced,” Glenchur wrote.

Clarification: Responding to readers who have expressed confusion about some aspects of this story, in particular why the yearbook comment about students at AMPS might be construed as racist, we wanted to add some context: According to data published by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the racial/ethnic breakdown of the 233 students in Berkeley High’s AMPS this year was: 40 percent black, 35 percent Hispanic and 13 percent white.

Eden Teller, a junior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a Berkeleyside summer intern. She is majoring in media and cultural studies and minoring in geology.

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