Hidden racial slur sparks recall of hundreds of yearbooks from Quebec high school

The Lester B. Pearson School Board's head office is shown in Montreal, Thursay, August 29, 2019. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

A suburban Montreal high school has recalled more than 900 yearbooks after a racial slur was found hidden in a student biography.

The Lester B. Pearson School Board says that for one graduate’s entry, two students at Macdonald High School in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., wrote a series of words separated by commas, with the first letters of the words forming the slur.

Read more: Black Montreal high school graduate speaks out about racist text in yearbook

The board condemned the students’ actions as “extremely inappropriate and unacceptable” in a statement Sunday.

“We cannot let racist attitudes of any kind go unchecked,” the board said.

Board spokesperson Darren Becker said on Monday the slur went unnoticed during the editing process before the books were printed and distributed, but he said people took note on social media at the end of last week. He said, “It’s extremely subtle the way they went about it.”

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“It’s extremely unfortunate that this is how these two students decided to leave their school, to start a new chapter of their lives,” Becker said. “Disappointing isn’t even strong enough.”

Becker said the 2021-22 yearbooks will be edited to remove the offending passage and returned to students. The students involved will face disciplinary action, although Becker declined to comment on what measures would be taken.

Read more: Montreal-area father calls daughter’s homework assignment racist, ‘in shock’ over it

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, a Montreal-based civil rights organization, welcomed the board’s reaction.

“By taking swift and firm actions to condemn the racist act and its author, and to remove the offensive hateful passage in the yearbook, the (school board) deserves praise,” Niemi said Monday in an email.

Niemi said the incident shows the need for ongoing vigilance from school officials, teachers, parents and students.

“Racism is often subtle and pervasive in education, and it’s bound to occur,” Niemi said.

“All school boards should pay serious attention to racism, especially anti-Black racism, and invest in effective measures to combat and prevent it as much as possible _ because they owe children of colour and their parents a racism-free learning environment.”

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