Employees who showed up for work at an Idaho school district donning Halloween costumes that depicted Mexican people and a border wall emblazoned with “Make America Great Again” have been placed on administrative leave.
Middleton School District Superintendent Josh Middleton announced on Saturday morning during a special school board meeting that 14 employees involved in the controversial Halloween photos circulating on social media have been placed on paid leave.
Photos began circulating of Middleton Heights Elementary staff who chose to wear the Halloween costumes to school and in class on Facebook, where the photos went viral.
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The photos posted on the Middleton School District’s Facebook page had a caption that read, in part, “It was a great day to be a Heights Hawk! We celebrated our RESPECT character winners, single and double marathon runners.”
The photos were later removed, but screenshots that were captured can be seen below.
Middleton was contacted on Thursday evening by a parent who was concerned about the photos. “We are better than this,” he said in a now deleted Facebook Live video.“We embrace all students. We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students — period.”
During the six hours the video was online, the superintendent’s video had nearly 18,000 views and around 1,700 comments. The comments overwhelmingly denounced the district’s post and the photos, with several commenting for the staff in the photos to be fired or at least punished for wearing the tasteless costumes.
Idaho DACA Student’s Facebook page also posted the photos and urged people to contact Middleton, the board of trustees and the Idaho State Board of Education, listing email addresses and phone numbers to express their concerns.
Twelve Idaho-based advocacy groups and nonprofits, including the ACLU of Idaho, Immigration Justice Idaho, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, and PODER of Idaho, sent a letter to the district’s superintendent on Friday afternoon expressing their concerns over the costumes.
“The intent or misjudgments of the individuals involved does not undo the trauma experienced by students, families and communities,” the letter states. “The impact on these students does not stay only with them but has lasting effects beyond the school or classroom. We believe the school and classrooms have now become hostile environments that are not conducive to the education of the students.”
The letter urged the district to review the State Board of Education’s policies and civil and human rights laws on harassment and discrimination.
“Do I think there was a malicious intent with this decision? No, I don’t,” the superintendent said in the video. “Was there a poor judgment involved? Absolutely. And we now have to own those decisions.”
Superintendent Middleton also stated that district administrators are actively investigation the incident.
“I was shown those photos and was deeply troubled by our staff members (who chose to) wear those costumes that were clearly insensitive and inappropriate,” Superintendent Middleton said. “… Our time right now is going to be devoted to investigating those events and those poor decisions that were made.”
It’s unclear who runs the district’s social media sites, but the district’s technology policy does clearly state that all users, including parents, students and staff are “expected to use good judgment” and to follow the policy, including encouraging users to “be safe, appropriate, careful and kind” and to “use good common sense,” among other expectations.
A MoveOn.org petition titled “No Racism in Middleton School District” was created on Friday in response to the incident and currently sits at 6,305 signatures, with the goal of attaining 7,500. The petiton reads in part: ”
“We hope you will sign this petition to demand for a proactive approach to ensuring that the students of the Middleton School District get the education they deserve and can once again trust the teachers and administration that are responsible for their growth and learning. The Middleton School District and the teachers involved have an opportunity to make this right and to be the teachers and administrators that their students deserve.
Transform school environment/culture.
Identify school wide approaches to provide awareness and consciousness of systemic racism through culturally relevant curriculum, policy change, review of hiring practices, and district wide training.
Creating an environment where healing is possible for communities directly affected by providing opportunities for students, families, and the community to come together to better understand and address implicit bias, racism, historical and current trauma that led us to this moment. Every incidence of hate can be met with an act of beloved community.
Being Proactive about Race and Nationality
Find creative ways to engage district wide staff and teach the student body around race, ethnicity, and nationality issues.”
According to U.S. census data, the Latino population of Middleton is 9.5%. Data from Idaho Ed Trends, which is managed by Idaho Education News, shows that 12.9% of students who attend Middleton Heights Elementary are Hispanic/Latino.