MIDDLETON — The Middleton School District superintendent said he will launch an internal investigation after teachers posted what he calls “insensitive and inappropriate” Halloween pictures on the district’s Facebook page.
“I’m deeply troubled by the decision by our staff members to wear those costumes,” Superintendent Josh Middleton posted on Facebook Friday morning.
Later on Friday, an unexpected special school board meeting was posted for Saturday morning.
The Halloween photos ignited heated criticism on social media, with some commenters calling the photos racist. They were uploaded to the district’s Facebook page on Oct. 31 at 8:30 p.m.
One photo, shared Thursday by Facebook user Beth Almanza, shows Middleton Heights Elementary School staff members holding pieces of what appear to be brick-painted cardboard signs that together form a wall and bear the words “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” — a political campaign slogan popularized by President Trump during his 2016 campaign. One sign holder is dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Another is hoisting an American flag.
A separate photo depicts seven other staffers clad in bright Mexican-themed clothes, sombreros, and fake mustaches shaking maracas.
On Friday evening, the district gave notice for a special meeting to be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at the district office. The meeting’s agenda states the trustees will meet in a closed executive session to consider “the evaluation, dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent, or public school student.”
According to district policy, partisan or political activities are prohibited for school employees at any time during regular school hours.
Almanza said she obtained the photos via a screenshot from the district’s Facebook page, where the photos were taken down Friday morning.
Almanza’s post set off a firestorm of condemnation from Facebook users.
“Disappointing and disgusting,” wrote Evangelina Ozuna Ybarra.
“I am horrified,” wrote Lisa Souders.
Some defended the photos.
“I love how everyone is suddenly offended by Halloween costumes,” wrote Clarissa McAllister.
Superintendent Middleton expressed his “sincerest and deepest apologies to our families and to our patrons.”
“We are so much better than this,” he said early Friday morning.
On Friday afternoon, the Idaho Education Association issued a statement condemning the costumes and offering to assist in providing diversity training.
“The events that took place at Heights Elementary School in Middleton on Halloween are disturbing and inappropriate,” the statement reads. “The teachers involved, as well as school administrative personnel, and the Middleton School District showed extremely poor judgment.”
“The IEA and the Middleton Education Association stand ready, willing, and able to assist the district in providing diversity and cultural competency training for Middleton School District employees,” the statement continued. “As troubling as the situation is, it does provide us with an opportunity for education and growth so that people can be made more aware of how hurtful these kinds of insensitive behaviors can be.”
Middleton Heights has nearly 600 students and 27 staff members. About 13 percent of the student population is Hispanic. Click here for more details about the school.
Superintendent Middleton had originally planned to go on Facebook Live Friday to talk about next week’s election, when his district will ask voters to support three bond measures. The district says it needs nearly $29 million for a new school and to address improvements to existing buildings, including Heights elementary.
Critics continued Friday to post their thoughts on Facebook, including comments from Idaho lawmakers.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, wrote: “This kind of hateful, racist, violent behavior must stop and should not be tolerated. I’m so angry and disheartened at educators acting this way. … Deplorable! There should be concrete and severe consequences for those who chose to do this.”
“This is incredibly disappointing,” said Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City.
By Friday afternoon a petition declaring “No Racism in Middleton School District” was circulating on moveon.org. Shortly after 4 p.m., it had garnered more than 840 signatures from across the country.
Also on Friday, the Middleton School District removed a photo of Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra celebrating Halloween at Middleton Heights from the school’s webpage.
The photo appeared under a caption reading “State Superintendent, Sherri Ybarra (Jack), visited Heights and enjoyed some of our Halloween Festivities!”
When asked about the photo Friday, Ybarra’s SDE spokeswoman, Allison Westfall, said it was from last year, when Ybarra visited the school.
Westfall also provided a photo of a Nov. 5, 2017 Idaho Press news article that referenced Ybarra’s visit and include a photo of Ybarra wearing the Halloween costume.
“She did not visit Middleton Heights this year,” Westfall wrote in an e-mail to Idaho Education News.
Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this article.