July 14, 2024
An item in a high school yearbook mislabeling Israel as Palestine has sparked controversy in the Temecula community and has the school district looking into further action.

An item in a high school yearbook mislabeling Israel as Palestine has sparked controversy in the Temecula community and has the school district looking into further action.

In a section highlighting world events in the 2023-24 Temecula Valley High School yearbook,  a close-up map of Gaza and Israel labeled parts of Israel as Palestine.

The entry was paired with a caption that “is not complete in its characterization of the cause and effect of the conflict,” said a letter to the community from Temecula Valley Unified School District Superintendent Gary Woods.

“It failed to mention that, on October 7, Hamas stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing about 1200 people,” the letter said. “Many innocent individuals were abducted, and some remain in captivity now. The caption also falsely claimed there was a total blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel with no supporting detail.”

In response to complaints from the community, district officials said they were planning to take several steps, outlined in the letter. They include refunds for the yearbook, helping families remove the page and offering a sticker that can be placed over the caption.

The district also promised to host two student forums in the coming school year to explore global issues, including the Israel-Gaza conflict and plans to increase oversight and supervision from advisers of student publications.

The letter said the district would have meetings with parents and administrators to discuss issues on campus and additional training for staff members to talk about cultural competencies and bias.

District officials declined to comment further.

Temecula school board member Steven Schwartz said he planned to sit down with the superintendent and would look into an outside investigation to find answers on how this was allowed to happen.

“As a Jew, I was upset about the controversy it has created in the community,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz, a retired teacher, said he hoped the yearbook item was a mistake. He said it was one entry in a large book and he hoped it was a matter of a student who didn’t know and a teacher who missed an edit.

“I know it was hurtful, I know it was hurtful to me but until I know the motives I don’t want to attribute something harmful,” Schwartz said. “That is not how I do business.”

Nir Regev, an adjunct professor at Cal Poly Pomona and a parent of four children in the district, said the yearbook issue is not the first instance of antisemitism in the district. Regev said the district was not doing enough and called the sticker solution a Band-Aid.

“To be honest, I felt like I was betrayed,” Regev said. “Not just specifically me, but all Jewish people in the community and in the Temecula school district were betrayed by the process of people who approved this.”

The district passed a resolution in support of its Jewish community and denouncing antisemitism at its Tuesday, June 11, meeting.

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“I do think it is really important to honor our students and to renew that pledge to our Jewish students especially at a time where this has arisen,” board member Allison Barclay said at the meeting.

Schwartz said: “It is a statement, but it is only a statement, what matters is what is in our hearts and in our minds.”

Board member Jen Wiersma said “there is no place for religious bigotry on our campuses.”

Joseph Komrosky, who was recalled from the board this month, said at the meeting that he stood with the Jewish community and that the district was a place of inclusivity and understanding.