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High school apologizes, police investigating after racist messages printed in yearbook

Last Updated Oct 13, 2020 at 8:40 am EST

A Durham Catholic high school is apologizing and launching a police investigation after a student’s tribute to his grandmother was replaced with racist messages in the school’s yearbook.

Joshua Telemaque, a student at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering, wanted to honour his grandmother who had recently passed away.

He submitted a touching tribute to her that was to appear under his photo and name in the school’s yearbook. He originally wrote “RIP Grandma. Thank you for guiding me through my four years of high school.”

But instead, in the yearbook editions that were handed out to students on Saturday, the passage read, “RIP Harambe Dooga booga.O.”

Harambe was a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo that was shot and killed after a child climbed into the enclosure and was grabbed by the animal. Needless to say the student and his family were devastated when they saw the yearbook.

In a press conference late Sunday afternoon, in front of the school with his family behind him, Joshua said he was crushed that someone would replace what he wrote with something so racist.

“It’s hurting me, I’m in shock,” he said adding that he has been breaking down. “I haven’t been myself, it’s devastating. I’m holding back tears, it hurts a lot. As a black man, it’s very degrading.”

In a letter posted online, the principal at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School apologized for the “offensive, hurtful” comments.

“We are horrified to discover that inappropriate comments were unknowingly published in the 2019-2020 edition,” Susan Duane wrote in the letter.

“These comments were malicious, hurtful and racist in nature.”

CityNews reached out to the Durham Catholic District School Board for an interview, but one was not granted. Instead, a spokesperson pointed to another statement made by the board’s Education Director.

“I am deeply saddened by what has happened and extend my personal apologies to the individuals who have been harmed by the racist and malicious comments made,” wrote Tracy Barill. “We will work with the school not only to ensure that the incident is fully investigated but also to support students and the community in rectifying the harm that has been done.”

Duane adds that the school has launched a formal investigation with Durham Regional Police to “ensure that all individuals responsible are held accountable.”

Horrified to discover that the racist comments were unknowingly published, Joshua’s mother said it simply isn’t acceptable.

“I just think it should have been looked over before it was printed,” said Marva Massicot-Telemaque.

“I hope the school’s investigation will find out what happened and the school board will take a serious look at how they deal with complaints of bullying and protecting my son.”

The principal is asking all students to return their yearbooks to the school on Tuesday, adding that inventory will be conducted to account for each copy.

Despite the pain, Joshua is thanking the thousands around the world who have sent well wishes, saying his grandmother continues to guide him in this painful time.

“She’s my guardian angel,” he said. “I know she’s watching down on me, every day. I want to show her that I’m living my life through her.”

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