Controversial yearbook quote about Palestinians and Israel was taken out of context, investigation reveals

A student’s comment in Glenbrook South High School’s recent yearbook that seemed to praise the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and subsequently created an emotional firestorm in the community was published out of context and didn’t have anything to do with that deadly violence, an investigation revealed.

The student actually was referring to military action that occurred in the region years earlier, said attorney Justino D. Petrarca, who led the inquiry into the controversy. Petrarca reached that conclusion after interviewing the students involved and reviewing a recording of the interview, he said.

“The quote never mentions Oct. 7,” Petrarca said during Monday night’s District 225 school board meeting at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook. “It is not related to Oct. 7.”

Petrarca’s investigation also revealed award-winning yearbook adviser Brenda Field was aware of the quote before the yearbook was published and asked student editors about it but didn’t try to remove it from the book, Petrarca said. Field didn’t consult with Glenbrook South administrators about the quote, either, which she should have done under district policy, Petrarca said.

Field — who Petrarca said “doesn’t exercise any oversight” of the yearbook production process — and the yearbook editors didn’t comply with journalistic ethical guidelines in the matter, Petrarca said.

Petrarca’s report should be published on the district’s website Tuesday, officials said.

The school board took no action on the matter Monday but could at its July 8 meeting, board President Bruce Doughty said.

The controversy originated with comments in the most recent edition of the yearbook, Etruscan. A quote on a timeline that was attributed to a student reportedly indicated she was happy about the Hamas-led terrorist attacks and the still-raging war that followed.

District 225 officials called the quote antisemitic after learning of it in late May, after copies of the yearbook were distributed. Doughty repeated that characterization Monday night.

Officials in May drafted Petrarca to investigate how the comments came to be published.

On Monday, Petrarca said he interviewed the student, whose name hasn’t been published by the Daily Herald, as well as two students on the yearbook staff, Field, and school administrators. Three editors in chief refused to be interviewed, Petrarca said.

According to Petrarca, a yearbook staffer was assigned to get a comment about the war in Gaza from the student who eventually gave the quote. The comment was desired as part of a timeline featuring events of the year, Petrarca said.

The student was asked about the war in Gaza and spoke about her memories of an earlier conflict, Petrarca said. She said she woke up after that earlier attack “and I saw what Palestine did, and I was happy because they’re finally defending themselves.”

“Nowhere during the entire interview process was the term ‘Oct. 7’ ever used or referenced,” Petrarca said.

The student didn’t learn her comment was used out of context until after publication, Petrarca said.

Doughty called Petrarca’s report “shocking and disturbing.” Officials must address the situation and take action to prevent it from recurring, he said.

The school will offer replacement yearbooks or stickers to cover the page with the quote, Doughty announced.

Glenbrook South yearbook investigation begins as tensions rise in community

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