Idaho school dis­trict apol­o­gizes for cos­tumes of stereo­types

Su­per­in­ten­dent: ‘Poor judg­ment’ at grade school; 14 put on leave

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Sarah Mer­vosh

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.

‘It’s heart­break­ing’

“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

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