School staffers who donned offensive costumes back in class

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MIDDLETON, Idaho (AP) — Teachers and aides put on leave after donning caricatured outfits depicting Mexican people and a border wall for Halloween will return to work, an Idaho school district says, but an interim principal will remain.

The Middleton School District administration announced Wednesday that the staff members will head back to school over the next several days.

"Our focus is now one of healing with an opportunity for all of us to grow together as a community," the district said in a statement. "Today we began the re-entry process with training on cultural sensitivity and correspondence with parents, the staff and community."

Fourteen staff members were placed on paid administrative leave last week, and school district officials apologized after the staffers put on the Halloween costumes and posted photos on the district's Facebook page.

The photos were later removed, though not before some had captured screenshots that went viral and caused outrage. The teachers and aides in the photos apologized in a statement on Wednesday.

"While there was no malice or ill will in our intentions, we recently came up short in our understanding of the awareness of the impact of the choices we made, regardless of our intent," their statement said.

Mark Hopkins was named as interim principal at Middleton Heights Elementary School on Saturday. The district in Wednesday's statement said Hopkins will continue those duties.

The statement didn't mention Principal Kim Atkinson, and her status with the district is unclear.

Middleton is about 34 miles (55 kilometers) west of Boise, with 7,500 residents. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, nearly 10 percent of Middleton's population is Hispanic, and the school district offers a migrant education program.

Juan Saldana is community resource development specialist at the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, a group the school district met with to discuss future training involving cultural competency.

"We'll probably be going to Middleton quite a bit over the school year," Saldana said.

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