A photo of about a dozen staff members wearing the costume was posted to the Middleton School District’s Facebook page Thursday evening, the Idaho Press reports. The border wall reads “Make America Great Again,” while the staffers who dressed up as Mexicans are wearing sombreros, ponchos and holding maracas. One woman even wrote “MEXICAN” in big red letters on the top of her sombrero.
The Thursday post read in part: “It was a great day to be a Heights Hawk! We celebrated our RESPECT character winners, single and double marathon runners.”
Although the Facebook post has since been deleted, screenshots of the racist Halloween costumes were taken and circulated across social media. Many people from the district and other social media users were furious with the costume.
The Idaho DACA Students Facebook group denounced the Halloween costumes in a Friday morning Facebook post, shared via Elizabeth Almanza, a member of immigrant advocacy group PODER (Protecting our Dreams and Empowering Resilience) of Idaho.
“These photos are extremely disheartening,” Almanza wrote. “ALL children should have the right to a learning environment that celebrates all backgrounds. Imagine how some of the students felt when they walked into their classrooms on Halloween and saw their teachers (people they look up to) dressed like this? This is NOT funny. This is heartbreaking. Students deserve better.”
Middleton School District’s superintendent, Dr. Josh Middleton, addressed the controversial Halloween costumes in a Facebook Live video published Friday morning. He said he only became aware of the staff costumes when a parent contacted him on Thursday, offering his “sincerest and deepest apologies.”
“I was shown those photos and [was] deeply troubled by the decision by our staff members to wear those costumes that are clearly insensitive and inappropriate,” he said, adding: “Do I think there was a malicious intent in this poor decision? No, I don’t. Was there a poor judgment involved? Absolutely.”
“We are better than this. We embrace all students,” Middleton continued. “We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students, period.”
He added that the school district is investigating the issue. The Middleton School District did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Middleton announced during a Saturday morning school board meeting that 14 employees have been put on paid administrative leave following the controversial costumes.
“This type of behavior has no place in education and certainly is not tolerated here at Middleton School District,” a statement from the school district’s board of trustees reads.
“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 continued. “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.”
This article has been updated to include information about the employees’ suspension.