Idaho school district apologizes for costumes of stereotypes
Superintendent: ‘Poor judgment’ at grade school; 14 put on leave
The superintendent of an Idaho school district apologized Friday after photos circulated showing some staff members at an elementary school wearing Halloween costumes depicting Mexican stereotypes and others posing behind a border wall adorned with President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
The two photos were among several costume pictures posted to the school district’s Facebook page before being taken down. One showed a group wearing sombreros, ponchos and dark mustaches; the other included staff members dressed in U.S. patriotic gear standing behind what appeared to be a cardboard border wall.
By Saturday, 14 staff members who were involved in the photos had been placed on paid administrative leave, the Associated Press reported.
The photos from Middleton Heights Elementary School in Middleton, Idaho, were quickly met with outrage from the local Hispanic community and beyond. The pictures exacerbated a racial divide in a state that is predominantly white but where Hispanic people are the largest minority group. The episode also came at a time when the president has stoked anti-immigrant animosity just before the midterm elections.
Josh Middleton, Middleton School District superintendent, said the district is investigating what happened.
“Do I think there was a malicious intent in this poor decision? No, I don’t,” he said in a Facebook video posted Friday. “Was there a poor judgment involved? Absolutely.” He added that he was “deeply troubled by the decision by our staff members to wear those costumes that are clearly insensitive and inappropriate.”
“We are better than this,” he said. “We embrace all students.”
Growing ‘more harmful’
A letter addressed to the superintendent from 12 community groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Planned Parenthood and Immigrant Justice Idaho — said “the school and community climate in Idaho continues to grow more harmful against specific groups and identities, including our Latinx friends, family and neighbors.”
“The intent or misjudgements of the individuals involved does not undo the trauma experienced by students, families and communities,” the letter said.
The city of Middleton has a population of 7,400. During the 2015-16 school year, 12 percent of students at Middleton Heights Elementary were Hispanic, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
It was unclear why the employees dressed up the way they did. Two parents who visited the school on Halloween said the faculty was having a costume competition where groups of teachers dressed up to represent various countries.
State education officials said complaints — and any possible disciplinary or corrective action — would be handled by the local school board. Middleton and other school district officials, including board members, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
J.J. Saldaña, who oversees education efforts for the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said Friday that he had been inundated with calls from upset parents and community members.
The photos were particularly concerning, he said, because anti-immigration messages have been used to bully Hispanic children in school settings.
“We’ve already been hearing since the last presidential election that Hispanic kids have been taunted with that: ‘We’re going to build a wall’ or ‘Your parents are going to be deported,’ ” Saldaña said. “They are still getting taunted and teased and bullied with that, so being an educator, an adult doing this, it’s heartbreaking.”
Jon Yorgason, who has children who attend Middleton Heights Elementary, said the Halloween event was supposed to be fun but was mishandled.
“This was just a Halloween dress-up day,” he said. “Adults have blown this out of proportion. This was really something fun for the kids — that was the intent.”
Staff members at Middleton Elementary School in Idaho are under investigation for Halloween costumes deemed “clearly insensitive.” Facebook