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School district apologizes for teachers' 'culturally insensitive' yearbook photos

The Spanish teachers wore sombreos and ponchos, while the French teacher wore pearls and a beret.
The world language department took these photos for their school IDs that later were used in the yearbook.
The world language department took these photos for their school IDs that later were used in the
/ Source: TODAY

A California high school is apologizing for the "poor judgement" that led to its world language teachers posing in "culturally insensitive" photos.

The Spanish teachers at San Pasqual High School in Escondido, California, wore ponchos, sombreros and fake mustaches while the school's French teacher was pictured in a black beret, sunglasses and pearls.

The photos were originally taken for staff photo IDs at the start of the year, but were seen publicly on Monday after the yearbook was released to the school's senior students.

The school district apologized on Tuesday. The next day, Principal Martin Casas addressed the uproar in a letter to the school's students, families and staff.

"While it is our belief that our World Language meant no ill - will towards anyone. We cannot ignore it. Cultural appropriation is offensive, whether it was intentional or not," he said. "We owe an apology to our Latinx and Chicano community, a community that I am part of. It is unacceptable and has no place in our school."

The reaction to the photos was mixed, with some parents suggesting the school is being too sensitive.

“It doesn’t look offensive to me," parent Merced Juarez, who is Hispanic, told NBC News' San Diego affiliate. She added that her son's teacher is "very good" and "strict with them, because she wanted them to learn Spanish."

However, parent Martin Reyes Garcia said he understood why some people might be offended.

"It could be (offensive) because it’s not just for Mexican people, it’s for all the Latino people who speak Spanish and they could feel like they’re trying to make fun of us," he told the affiliate.

San Pasqual High School is using the incident as a teachable moment, according to a note obtained by TODAY.

On Wednesday, teachers shared a summary of what happened at the start of first period and asked students to pick two words that describe how the incident made them feel. At the end of class, the teachers then led the students in a discussion about how they can restore relationships and prevent something like this from happening in the future.

"This is part of a long journey to continue our work to becoming culturally proficient organization. This will require us to have courageous conversations and to reflect on our biases," Casas said. "We look forward to engaging our students, parents, community, and higher education partners to ensure that this does not happen again."