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'Hate speech' slipped into Salt Lake high school yearbook, district issues apology

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Yearbook signed with a pen. (FILE KUTV)

"There are two genders and a lot of mental illnesses."

This was the senior quote from a student at Highland High School that was published in yearbooks handed out yesterday for the 2019-20 school year.

The Salt Lake City School District (SLCSD) issued an apology on Saturday. They denounced the quote: calling it a form of hate speech and lacking inclusivity to the LGBTQ community. Yearbooks are typically handed out on the last day of school but were delayed this year due to the ongoing pandemic. Graduating seniors get to pick a few parting words to add to the yearbook as a farewell.

Although the student has graduated and could be legally considered an adult now, it is possible they were a minor when they gave the quote. For this reason, their name or photo will not be published. The SLCSD said the lack of editorial oversight could be considered to be more unfortunate than the actual quote itself. A thorough investigation will be conducted, according to SLCSD Interim Superintendent Larry Madden. Here is his full statement on the incident:

This yearbook quote is absolutely unacceptable and in no way reflective of the Salt Lake City School District, the value we place on every student, and the standards we strive to uphold. Let me make it clear that the Salt Lake City School District condemns hate speech in any form. I would also like to issue an apology to any students or community members who have suffered or felt attacked because of this detestable statement. To have something like this included in one of our high school yearbooks is abhorrent. We are committed to providing a safe and equitable learning environment for all students, including our LGBTQIA+ community. To our LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized students I say, please know how deeply your teachers, school administrators, and district leaders care about you and your well-being. This quote was offensive and inappropriate. The district will be conducting a thorough investigation into how this was allowed to happen, and I will be working closely with the new principal at Highland High School to make sure we review the yearbook editing process so that nothing like this ever happens again.

One month ago, Jeremey Chatterton accepted the position as principal for Highland. Although he was not in his position during the 2019-20 school year, he said the quote was more than just administrative oversight:

"It is an affront, an attack on our Highland community and our LGBTQIA+ community in particular. As principal, I will not allow hate speech like this in my school community."

Chris Jensen was the principal of Highland during the graduating class of 2020. He accepted a job from South Summit High School in Kamas, according to Highland's newspaper staff. The school's website lists Lorna Parkinson as the Yearbook faculty advisor.

Principal Chatterton said he will take the steps necessary to make another incident like this will not happen. Here is his full statement released today:

I want to echo Superintendent Madden’s apology and affirmation that this statement is in no way reflective of our beliefs or practices at Highland High School or in the Salt Lake City School District. The inclusion of this quote in the yearbook is more than just an administrative oversight; it is an affront, an attack on our Highland community and our LGBTQIA+ community in particular. As principal, I will not allow hate speech like this in my school community. While the student in question has graduated, I want to reassure community members that I will take the steps necessary to make sure something like this is never allowed to happen again. I know many in our community have been deeply hurt by this quote. We care about the mental well-being of our students and will make counselors available to any students who have been impacted by this statement and wish to speak to someone. Please email me at Jeremy.Chatterton@slcschools.org to set up an appointment with a counselor.

2News attempted to reach out to the student who wrote the post but did not hear back from them. It is believed they may have issued an apology over social media.

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