Fourteen Idaho elementary school teachers and staff members were put on administrative leave Saturday after they dressed up as Mexican stereotypes and the U.S. border wall for Halloween. The since deleted photos posted to Middleton School District’s Facebook page show Middleton Heights Elementary employees wearing sombreros and ponchos while holding mustaches and maracas. The other group of teachers held pieces of a cardboard brick wall with President Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The images quickly spread online and were met with immediate backlash with people calling the images racist.
In since deleted photos, a group of elementary school employees in Idaho dressed as Mexicans and the border wall.
Idaho’s Middleton school district apologized after elementary school teachers dressed as a border wall and Mexican stereotypes for Halloween. The superintendent said the costumes were "clearly insensitive and inappropriate" but denied any "malicious" intent. pic.twitter.com/DwDDRuxoqE
— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 2, 2018
Middleton School District superintendent Josh Middleton made the decision to put the employees on paid administrative leave Saturday at a special school board meeting. According to the Associated Press, Board Chairman Tim Winkle said the costumes were part of a team building activity that took place during after-school hours. The school board released a statement shortly after the meeting:
“This type of behavior has no place in education and certainly is not tolerated here at Middleton School District. This situation is being taken very seriously. We are in full support of our superintendent and administrative staff as a full investigation is being conducted, and are awaiting the results of the investigation,” the statement said. “This is an unfortunate incident of very poor judgment. Yet it is not indicative of the Middleton School District or our teachers as a whole.”
A member of the district’s crisis team will be taking over day-to-day principal duties at Middleton Heights for the time being.
Why would any teacher think this is okay? As teachers, it is our responsibility to teach respect and civility. As a life long Idahoan and teacher in the great state of Idaho, I have no words for how disappointed I am to see this tonight. #wearebetterthanthis pic.twitter.com/0agfABZwaI
— Tammy Taylor (@tammyinid) November 3, 2018
The Idaho Education Association posted on Facebook about the offensive costumes and the lack of judgement on behalf of the school.
“The events that took place at Heights Elementary School in Middleton on Halloween are disturbing and inappropriate,” the post read. “The teachers involved, as well as school administrative personnel, and the Middleton School District showed extremely poor judgment.”
Superintendent Middleton learned about the photos after an upset parent contacted him last Thursday. The district immediately launched an investigation into the photos. In a now deleted Facebook live post, Middleton apologized and said that he wanted to “express my sincerest and deepest apologies” for the offensive costumes.
“We are better than this. We embrace all students,” Middleton said in the video. “We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students, period.”
While some are offended by the images some don’t see it that way. Thousands have already signed a petition backing the Idaho teachers.
At least 10,000 people have signed an online petition in support of a group of Idaho elementary school teachers & staff who dressed up as a "Make America Great Again" border wall for Halloween. @IdahoOnYourSide: https://t.co/xDPGwarSeM pic.twitter.com/zDBZVY6sTB
— Morning Express with Robin Meade (@MorningExp) November 5, 2018
At least 12,000 signatures have been signed to an online petition in support of the Idaho school administrators that have been suspended. Jacquelyn Meeker, who started the petition, wrote that the situation was “blown out of proportion, as this was a team building exercise done after school with no students present or involved.”
A separate petition, that has drawn almost 10,000 signatures, is titled “No racism in Middleton School District” and describes the costumes as disturbing, bigoted and racist. The petition demands that there should be a change in the culture at the school and it should start with a curriculum that provides awareness of “systemic racism.” According to data from the U.S census, Middleton, Idaho has a Latino population of 9.5 percent, while Middleton Heights Elementary is only 12.9 percent Hispanic/Latino, according to Idaho Ed Trends.
Rights groups are calling for a change in culture in the school district noting the effect these images will have on students going forward.
The fact that these elementary school teachers thought this would be okay demonstrates how much more cultural competence training is needed in education. https://t.co/dkOfDt8XGz
— Kevin Nadal, Ph.D. (@kevinnadal) November 2, 2018
Twelve advocacy rights organizations, including the Idaho American Civil Liberties Union, sent a letter to the district expressing concern about the costumes and the effect they may have on students.
“Regardless of the intent of a teacher’s actions in the classroom, we must focus on and give weight to the impact of such actions on the students who rely on teachers and other school officials for guidance and support throughout their educational experience,” the ACLU of Idaho said in a statement.
The images come at a divisive time in the country as rhetoric from the President concerning immigrants has been a hot topic. J.J. Saldaña, who oversees education efforts for the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said the reaction among Latinos in the community has been one of disappointment.
“Over the past two years we’ve seen students getting bullied and hearing things like ‘We’re going to build a wall’ or ‘Your parents are going to be deported,’” Saldaña said. “We need more than just an apology from the school district. These teachers should be leading by example not dividing.”