Outrage as high school misidentifies hijab-wearing Muslim student as ‘ISIS’ in yearbook photo.
Bayan Zehlif, a Junior at Los Osos High School in California, discovered that her photo in the yearbook had been captioned as ‘Isis Phillips’.
“I am extremely saddened, disgusted, hurt and embarrassed that the Los Osos High School yearbook was able to get away with this,” Zehlif wrote on Facebook later that same day. “Apparently I am ‘Isis’ in the yearbook. The school reached out to me and had the audacity to say that this was a typo. I beg to differ, let’s be real.”
However, Trevor Santellan, a student at the Rancho Cucamonga high school who worked on the yearbook, insisted the incorrect identification was an honest mistake. Santellan told the New York Daily News, via a direct Twitter message, that the school actually had a student named Isis Phillips. “We have a campus of 3200 students. Their are going to be imperfections (sic),” Santellan said. He added that he believed Zehlif’s reaction was “out of proportion.”
“If anything, she’s being racist against herself because she misinterpreted it and not us,” he continued. “Because we thought of it as a beautiful name that parents gave to a kid. She obviously didn’t.” While the name Isis was once a popular name among baby girls, it is now widely considered as the acronym of the Islamic State terrorist group, The Los Angeles Times noted.
According to the Daily News, the yearbook committee offered Zehlif an apology online but did not explain how the mistake occurred. “It is our duty to represent the students of Los Osos High School and by mis-tagging and giving the incorrect name, we failed to do so,” the apology stated. “We should have checked each name carefully in the book and we had no intention to create this misunderstanding…We are currently working in coordination with the school and district office to remedy this situation.”
Los Osos Principal Susan Petrocelli also issued an apology via Twitter. “LOHS is taking every step possible to correct & investigate a regrettable misprint discovered in the yearbook. We sincerely apologize,” she tweeted.
The Chaffey Joint Union High School District, which Los Osos High School is a part of, said it was “investigating” the incident. District Superintendent Mat Holton said the school has contacted the families of both students and assured them an investigation would be conducted, the LA Times reported.
“If they find that a student acted irresponsibly and intentionally, administration will take appropriate actions,” Holton said. “The school will assure students, staff and the community that this regrettable incident in no way represents the values, or beliefs, of Los Osos High School.”
In a statement released on Sunday (8 May), the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for a “thorough investigation” and noted that the student and her family had suffered emotional and psychological distress due to the misidentification.
“We join with the family in their concern about a possible bias motive for this incident and in the deep concern for their daughter’s safety as a result of being falsely labeled as a member of a terrorist group,” Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s Los Angeles chapter, said. “No student should have to face the humiliation of being associated with a group as reprehensible as ISIS.”