New Jersey school yearbook photo of Jewish group swapped with Muslim students was a ‘highly unfortunate error,’ probe finds

An independent investigation launched after seniors at a New Jersey high school received yearbooks with a Jewish Student Union photo that had been replaced by a photo of Muslim students has determined the incident was an unfortunate error with no ill intent.

The swapped photo appeared in East Brunswick High School’s 2024 yearbook that was handed out to the senior class – prompting an independent investigation that started on June 6 and was completed on Tuesday, according to attorney Yaacov Brisman, whose law firm was retained by the school district to conduct the probe.

Seniors who received the yearbooks had been asked to return them so that the errant page can be replaced, CNN previously reported.

An unidentified school staff member who served as a Yearbook Club advisor placed the incorrect image in the yearbook, Brisman said in the report.

“I conclude that the use of the incorrect photograph was not purposeful, but rather was a highly unfortunate error,” Brisman wrote in the findings, adding the staff member’s actions were “at best careless” but “can also be considered negligent.”

“… I have no basis to find that she acted out of any animus, racial, religious, or political, towards Jewish or Muslim students,” he said in the report.

The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey demanded facts and accountability after it learned of the swapped photo.

Muslim Student Association Vice President Ali Salama said in a statement after the incident came to light, the MSA “had no involvement in this, yet we have become the face of the whole incident because our faces weren’t even blurred out before the photo was posted on social media.”

In his report, Brisman gave a series of recommendations to the school district, notably that it should “revisit the entire Yearbook production process and implement more sophisticated review measures.”

Yearbook for East Brunswick High School in New Jersey. - NEWS 12 NEW JERSEY LLC
Yearbook for East Brunswick High School in New Jersey. - NEWS 12 NEW JERSEY LLC

Any decisions on taking disciplinary action against the school’s administration for the error will be left to the discretion of the school’s administration, he wrote.

The unidentified school staff member who was interviewed by investigators “expressed deep remorse at her error, and sadness that her mistake caused the uproar,” Brisman said in the report. 

“She was visibly distressed when discussing the possibility that she might have done this purposefully, and vehemently denied having done so,” Brisman added.

In a Wednesday news release, East Brunswick Public Schools Superintendent Victor Valeski said: “While I’m grateful that the results of this investigation show that these actions were serious mistakes without malice, we must now focus on repairing the deep hurt and division that has been created in our school and community.”

The superintendent said the school district will work with the state’s board of education to ensure “there is accountability for the mistakes that were made and take measures, including implementing a tolerance training program for the start of the next school year, to ensure something like this never happens again.”

CNN’s Emma Tucker and Taso Stefanidis contributed to this report.

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