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Sunshine Coast yearbook recalled for ‘inappropriate, offensive and racist content’

The mother and aunt of several youth attending Chatelech Secondary School in Sechelt, B.C., is upset by what she describes as offensive and racist comments included in the school’s yearbook, which was distributed last week.
Chatelech Secondary School in Sechelt.

The mother and aunt of several youth attending Chatelech Secondary School is upset by what she describes as offensive and racist comments included in the school’s yearbook, which was distributed last week. The yearbook has since been recalled by the school’s principal, Mark Sauer.

Shannon Mayers says she wanted to cry after reading some of the comments directed largely at Indigenous youth graduating from the school.

“So, Thursday of this week, I went up to the school to pick up my kids and my son got in the car with his girlfriend and they said something about the yearbook, and I said, ‘Oh, did you get your yearbook?’” says Mayers.

When her son told her he wanted no part of the yearbook, Mayers argued the book should be a keepsake he could use to look back on his last year of school and graduation.

“So, I asked him, what was your quote?”

Mayers says she was stunned when at her son’s reply.

“He said, ‘Most likely to punch a wall for no reason,’” says Mayers.

Some of the other offensive comments directed at Indigenous students include, “Most likely to work at McDonald's.” “Most likely to live in the wilderness.” “Most likely to be mad,” and “most likely to have a common last name.” Mayers noted many First Nation people share last names as the result of colonization.  

And, while there were also some unflattering comments directed at non-Indigenous students, the majority were positive.

Mayers believes the students who put the yearbook together likely weren’t trying to be racist but instead intended the comments to be funny or inside jokes.

“A part of me really believes that [they] doesn't realize what [they] has created by having hatred. And I mean, the thing is that, I don't expect everybody to like everybody, but I expect there to be a certain level of respect for my child,” says Mayers. “The thing is, children do not understand the ramifications of their comments.”

Mayers said the students involved need to understand the history of the community — “and especially of the community that they're living in.

“We are in a time of reconciliation. I have put 11 youth through school and I've never had this issue…”

In response to the complaints, Principal Sauer sent out an email to parents noon last Friday asking for the yearbooks to be returned. "Unfortunately, inappropriate, offensive and racist content was published, which has caused harm to our learning community," wrote Sauer in part. "We deeply regret this incident and extend our sincerest apologies. We acknowledge that our review process for the yearbook failed to identify these issues before it went to print."

Sauer wrote they are working to repair harm and "support conversations with families and students." He added they would review and improve procedures to prevent a reoccurrence. He said no more copies of the current version of the yearbook would be distributed and a corrected version would be produced. 

“Oh, yeah, they've said that everybody needs to return the books and that's a joke,” says Mayers. “Nobody is going to return this book. This is printed and it's now going to go [down] in history of being something really bad. None of them are going to give it back. So, it's out there.”

But at least one parent is against replacing the yearbooks. Udo Rosenberg told the Coast Reporter it’s wrong to ask students to return yearbooks, which have already been signed by their friends and teachers.

“It is unfair for students, especially the graduating class, to be unable to engage in the tradition of signing yearbooks, as this activity holds significant social and emotional value,” says Rosenberg, a former Parent Advisory Council and District Parent Advisory Council member. “This tradition allows students to express appreciation, celebrate shared experiences and create lasting memories.”

He notes, returning the original yearbooks filled with personal messages from peers and teachers denies the graduates a tangible memento of their school year, which can be an important keepsake for the future.

Kate Kerr, superintendent of schools for School District 46, said the district is extending its sincerest apologies to those affected by the offensive content included in the yearbook.

“And we recognize the impact that it's had on individuals, of course, and the greater community,” says Kerr. Beyond the recall and halt of distribution, as well as the production of a corrected version, Kerr adds an investigation into how the yearbook was approved is underway.

“[The investigation] will inform our next steps about what processes and procedures we need to ensure that we have in place moving forward, because I think we definitely need some more robust processes in place so that this never happens again.”

Kerr notes any policies or procedure changes to come out of the investigation will be implemented across the school district.

“What this has taught us, is that we do need robust processes with several layers of checks involved, so that it doesn't happen again and not just at Chatelech Secondary,” says Kerr.

Kerr says the school district is going to do its utmost to try and to address the harm done and restore trust. She adds, it’s all well and good to apologize, but it’s what comes after the apology that counts. Kerr says the idea of having an event during which the students can have their yearbook signed by their friends and teachers again will be considered.

“And if that's what students feel would be supportive and helpful, we'll certainly look into that. We don't know how soon it will take for the redistribution, but we'll be looking at all avenues to ensure that this grad class feels good about their connections and about their year. The yearbook is supposed to be celebrating the vibrancy of a wonderful learning community and whatever we can do to restore that trust and address that harm, we want to do.”