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HS graduation banner called 'racist' for using photos of students of color to form dark outlines

'I saw my face and the faces of my friends and classmates multiple times in the shading, which raised questions ...'

Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A Virginia high school's banner honoring graduating seniors is being called out as racist — and the principal is apologizing.

What are the details?

The banner from Yorktown High School in Arlington used photos of students of color to form the dark outlines of the school's logo, ARLnow reported, adding that school officials removed the banner following their "oversight."

"I thoroughly don't understand how Yorktown put forth such a racist banner," one student wrote in a social media post, the outlet noted. "I understand they were trying to do something nice for the seniors, but the execution was horrible. [People of color] shouldn't be the outline and there are better ways to highlight the Y."

What did school officials have to say?

An Arlington Public Schools spokesman told the outlet the banner was created using computer software that arranges hundreds of photos according to the background colors in each photo — and the grouping of the students' photos corresponded to the colors in the Yorktown HS logo.

"The printer sent a proof to the school by email, so it was difficult to see how the photos were placed to create image," Frank Bellavia added to ARLnow.

Yorktown Principal Kevin Clark said in an email to students and parents that the school didn't create the banner but "did review it and did not recognize that the background photo unintentionally grouped students by colors in their photos. Therefore, it appears that our students of color seem to make up the darker areas of the photo. Upon realizing our oversight, we immediately removed the banner and notified the printing company of this issue," the outlet said.

"This banner does not appropriately reflect our graduating class or our values, and we sincerely apologize to any student who felt offended or marginalized," Clark added, according to ARLnow. "We do not condone any activity or imagery that offends our students."

Anything else?

The outgoing co-editor-in-chief of the Yorktown Sentry student newspaper posted on Twitter about the banner controversy Wednesday, the ARLnow said. Joseph Ramos also said the banner "does not include all members of the class, but repeats the photos of certain students."

Yoni Yohannes, a black senior at Yorktown, told the Washington Post he "didn't catch the alignment" of the photos initially but soon "realized that the poster featured blacks and Latinos arranged as a shading to the Yorktown logo. ... I saw my face and the faces of my friends and classmates multiple times in the shading, which raised questions as why they would do that."

But Yohannes told the paper he knew it wasn't intentional and appreciated the school's apology.

"I don't want people to think that my school is a racist school — it's far from the truth," he added to the Post. "Many of the Yorktown staff are amazing people, and the environment that they created helped me and many students succeed as high schoolers."

One last thing…
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