Three students at Kenilworth Junior High are seen in the team basketball photo making an upside down "OK" sign--a sign that has become known as a symbol of white power.
Parents and community members showed up at the Petaluma Unified School District's board meeting Tuesday to express their concern over the image and to ask why it fell through the cracks.
"They need to understand that the symbol they're showing has been taken over by some extreme white power people," Sheila Morrissey, whose children go to Petaluma Unified's Casa Grande High School, told ABC7 News. (Morrissey said her daughter's yearbook also includes photos with students making the same symbol.)
A photo printed in the Kenilworth Junior High yearbook shows 3 kids making what has become known as a sign of white power. Parents have now shown up at the #Petaluma Unified School Board meeting to ask how this slipped through the cracks. pic.twitter.com/wNkKuq3CZz— Liz Kreutz (@ABCLiz) May 29, 2019
Earlier in the day, Principal Bennett Holley sent an email to parents addressing the photo at Kenilworth and asking students to turn their yearbooks back into the school.
Holley said the school plans to photoshop and then reprint the offensive photo on a sticker so students can put the new version directly on top of the original image.
"It's the perception of it, it's what it can mean to different people," Dave Rose, the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services with the Petaluma Unified School District, explained to ABC7, "And that's what was brought to our attention and that's where it became more of an issue."
The use of the "OK" hand gesture can also be associated with a game played by some kids called the "Circle Game." However, parents want students to understand it also has another meaning.
One of the parents here has children in Petaluma Unified’s Casa Grande High School. After she heard about the Kenilworth incident she checked her daughter’s yearbook and found three photos with students making the same “white power” sign. pic.twitter.com/kUazZ6CxFl— Liz Kreutz (@ABCLiz) May 29, 2019
The symbol recently became associated with white power. In 2017, it started as a hoax by the website 4chan. Since then, however, some white supremacists have begun using the symbol, including New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant, who flashed the symbol during his court appearance.
Rose said the students involved with the photo have been disciplined and that the school is now working on a "bigger picture" effort to address the larger issue.
"This is an incident where we have two or three other incidents like this within the last 16, 18 months," Rose said. "This is something we cannot continue on this pathway. We need to look at something campus wide."
Zahyra Garcia, a community activist who attended the meeting, said she hopes that includes a conversation about representation.
"I can tell you people of color know exactly what that means," Garcia said of the "OK" symbol. "So, if we had more representation I think this would have probably been caught early on."