A group of elementary school staff members in Idaho are under fire for wearing Halloween costumes depicting a brick border wall with President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” written across it. A handful of other staffers at Middleton Heights Elementary School in Middleton wore “Mexican” costumes, complete with sombreros, fake mustaches and maracas.
Photos of the costumes were posted on the Middleton School District’s Facebook page and were later removed after numerous complaints began rolling in. Screenshots of the pictures were posted across social media and went viral, sparking outrage from the Hispanic community, activists and others. Middleton is predominately white, but Hispanics represent its largest minority group.
Faculty at the elementary school reportedly held a costume competition that involved dressing up to represent various countries. The event also took place at a time when emotions about immigration are running high and people are debating the political correctness of Halloween costumes.
Numerous comments on social media called for the firing of the employees, prompting school district’s superintendent to issue an apology on Facebook. The district’s Facebook account later appeared to be disabled.
How did the district respond?
“I want to say we are better than this,” said Superintendent Josh Middleton, whose last name is the same as the district’s. “We embrace all students. We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students, period. Was there poor judgement involved? Absolutely. And we now have to own those decisions.”
Middleton also indicated he did not believe there was any malicious intent. His video was downloaded by various groups and re-posted to social media.
On Saturday, the school board was scheduled to hold a closed-session meeting to discuss the possibility of disciplinary action, according to published reports.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Planned Parenthood, and Immigrant Justice Idaho were among at least a dozen community groups that addressed a letter to the superintendent. The letter stated, “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 misjudgments of the individuals involved does not undo the trauma experienced by students, families and communities.”
Middleton, Idaho, is about 20 miles northwest of Boise, with a population of 7,400. About 12 percent of students at Middleton Heights Elementary School are Hispanic.
J.J. Saldaña, who oversees education initiatives for the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, told the New York Times he was inundated with calls from angry parents and community members.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook all day,” said Saldaña.
He also said he is concerned that references to a border wall can be used to bully Hispanic students.
“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.”