After photos surfaced of staff at an Idaho elementary school dressed in Halloween costumes as Mexicans and a border wall bearing the slogan “Make America Great Again,” the employees responsible won’t be returning to their classrooms on Monday.
At a special school board meeting called on Saturday morning, Middleton school district Superintendent Josh Middleton said that the 14 staff members at Middleton Heights Elementary School who were involved in the incident had been placed on paid administrative leave, the Associated Press reports.
The announcement comes after pictures of the school employees in costume, originally posted to the district’s Facebook page on Thursday, circulated on social media.
In one picture, six educators are dressed in patriotic outfits—the Statue of Liberty, a bald eagle, and red, white, and blue clothing—holding sections of a prop brick wall with the words “Make America Great Again” written across the panels.
Another photo features seven staff members dressed as Mexicans, wearing sombreros, ponchos, and fake moustaches and carrying maracas.
The pictures have since been removed, though screenshots remain online. As of Saturday, the district’s entire Facebook page has been taken down.
Teachers and others in the education community fiercely criticized the costume decision on Twitter and Facebook, calling it racist and harmful to the students at the school.
“There is no apology that can make this acceptable. ... These are not educators we need in our lives,” wrote Melissa Tirado, an English-as-a-new-language teacher in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on Twitter.
“Teachers may explicitly teach students subjects, but they implicitly instill the values and beliefs of the locality and country,” wrote José Luis Vilson, a middle school math teacher in New York City, also on Twitter. “When we see racist teachers dressing up as ‘Mexicans and walls,’ imagine how marginalized peoples feel in those school walls.”
About 13 percent of the study body at the Idaho school is Hispanic, according to Idaho Ed Trends.
The Idaho teachers’ union issued a statement calling the incident “disturbing and inappropriate,” and offering assistance in providing diversity and cultural competency training for district employees. Both the ACLU of Idaho and PODER of Idaho, an organization that advocates on behalf of DACA recipients and undocumented youth in the state, also condemned the costumes.
Since the 2016 presidential election, students in schools across the country have invoked the border wall to taunt their Latino classmates.
Middleton, the Idaho district’s superintendent, said he was “deeply troubled” by his staff members’ actions in a video posted to the district’s Facebook on Friday, before the page was taken offline.
Calling the costumes “insensitive and inappropriate,” he said that he believed them to be a result of “poor judgment” rather than “malicious intent.”
“We are better than this,” he said in the video. “We embrace all students. We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students, period.”
Screenshot via Facebook.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.