SLP High School Apologizes For ‘Unacceptable’ Yearbook Entry

St. Louis Park High School officials and student yearbook staff apologized for an entry in Echowan, the school’s yearbook, for a news entry that called out Israel for declaring war on Hamas on Oct. 8, without mention of the attack the preceding day.

The yearbook includes a couple of notable news items for each month of the school year. The first entry for October reads: “On October 8, 2023, Israel formally declared war on Hamas. The death toll reached about 1,100 on both sides, and Israel increased airstrikes on Gaza.”

SLPHS Principal LaNisha Paddock emailed the apologies to high school families Wednesday evening.

“We are writing to address a serious issue that has come to our attention regarding the recent publication of our school yearbook. There was misinformation in the current events section that caused harm, particularly to our Jewish families within the school community. This is unacceptable,” the email said. “We understand that publishing inaccurate and incomplete information is both traumatizing and hurtful. As a human and the principal for St. Louis Park High School, I feel devastated that this situation has caused distress to our school community.”

Yearbook distribution began on May 21 at the school, and dozens of families notified Paddock later that day. One email shared with TC Jewfolk told Paddock that it was a “very one-sided, triggering narrative.” 

A St. Louis Park Jewish families WhatsApp group said it would be akin to the 1942 yearbook said: “On December 8th, the U.S. declared war on Japan and thousands were killed on both sides,” while not acknowledging the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the email, Paddock said the yearbook intends to honor all students, but acknowledged the school fell short of the goal. 

“The inaccuracies in the yearbook do not reflect the values of inclusivity and respect that we strive to uphold,” Paddock wrote. 

The Echowan is a student-led publication, although has two staff advisors, listed in the yearbook as Kelsey Hanson and Anthony Vandeneinde. “As a school district, we take responsibility for the lack of a substantial review process,” Paddock wrote.

The apology from the student yearbook staff said: “The statement for the Israel-Hamas conflict in October contains misleading information and an unfortunate omission.

“We overlooked the inclusion of the terrorist attacks on Oct. 7. This omission was unintentional, and we are deeply apologetic about our ignorance in not including this day in the yearbook. This mistake is fully ours, and we understand that leaving out this day erased the lived experience of many of our students, families, and community members. 

“We understand that this apology will not undo the harm and trauma that we caused. As a student-run organization, we are learning from and reflecting on our mistake to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In the future, we will implement a better proofing process that includes intentional consideration of the many perspectives of our student population.”

In a statement from Sami Rahamim, the director of communications and community affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas said: “Like so many in our community, we were appalled to read that the SLP Echowan flagrantly distorted October 7 into a propaganda version of history where “Israel formally declared war on Hamas” – versus the truth about that day, which is the inverse. 

“JCRC is working closely with SLP families and administrators to address this obscene error and repair the harm.“

Paddock’s letter said that high school and district administration will be meeting with the JCRC on Thursday to better understand impact and discuss how to repair harm.

“No one we’re talking to in leadership thinks this was okay. No one thinks that the right review processes were in place. And we have to figure that out,” said Ben Schein, a Jewish parent in St. Louis Park who has been part of ongoing conversations with district leadership since the Oct. 7 attacks.

Non-Jewish parents are also disappointed in the school. The Rev. Danielle Jones, the mother of an SLPHS student, said that to call the incident unfortunate doesn’t begin to cover it.

“I think telling just a sliver of the story of what is happening perpetuates all the things that I think we’re all worried about in the world, like fake news and not getting grounded in the truth,” she said. “I know from my friends who are Jewish, that this is a time where there’s a lot of fear, because of stories that are half-truths and things that are being activated, as they always have been, in antisemitic ways. My heart just dropped.”

The lack of oversight or editing was concerning to Jones.

“High schoolers are for sure emerging adults, but they are not there yet,” she said. “And the whole purpose of the yearbook staff is to teach students how to tell stories that are correct and true, and that certainly isn’t.”