LINCOLN — Lincoln school officials suspended an eighth-grader Thursday who edited a “hurtful” message next to the photo of another student in the school yearbook.
The eighth-grader, who was on the yearbook staff at Irving Middle School, typed “WTF” next to a younger student's photo, representing a more obscene version of “what the heck?” Both students are boys.
Rather than recall 525 yearbooks, the school will distribute new photos of the targeted student that can be pasted over the offending message, said Principal Hugh McDermott.
The school also offered students and parents refunds on the yearbooks, which sold for $20.
Contrary to rumors on social media sites, the targeted student does not have special needs, McDermott said. Officials have no indication the boy had been the victim of bullying, he added.
“I would ask anyone who has a yearbook to immediately mark out these letters to demonstrate our unified efforts against hurtful behavior of this kind,” McDermott said Thursday.
The offending message was reported by the targeted student, a seventh-grader, after the first round of yearbooks was distributed to eighth-graders last Friday. The rest of the yearbooks were handed out Monday.
In the meantime, school officials launched an investigation into the matter. After the school received messages from concerned parents, McDermott sent an email to parents Thursday morning describing the incident.
As a result of that email, other students revealed the identity of the student who wrote the letters, the principal said.
The student was suspended and missed the final day of classes before summer break. He could face additional discipline and meetings with staff members to address the issue, McDermott said.
McDermott said he and a teacher who supervises the yearbook staff proofread the book before publication and did not notice the letters. He described their placement as “fairly subtle.”
“I feel bad about that,' he said, adding that the ultimate responsibility for the oversight was his.
The principal met Thursday morning with the targeted student and his mother to apologize for the incident. The boy was hurt by the message, McDermott said. “The damage has been done, so we're trying to figure out what we can do to help.”
The seventh-grader already had lots of friends before the incident, but he has more now after other students rallied around him, McDermott said.
Steve Joel, superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools, said he, McDermott and other staff members at the school responded to the incident properly.
The school has long collaborated with Susan Swearer, a national authority on bullying at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Irving's anti-bullying efforts were showcased on “CBS Sunday Morning” in 2011.
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