MIDDLETON — Fourteen Middleton School District staff members were placed on administrative leave Saturday morning in the wake of the posting of photos on Facebook showing staff members dressed in costumes depicting national and ethnic stereotypes.
Middleton school board members took the action at a hastily called meeting Saturday morning, condemning the teachers’ actions and creating a six-pronged action plan moving forward.
The meeting was in response to the two photos under question posted on the Middleton school district’s Facebook page that caused a rain of outcry on social media — both locally and nationally.
A Facebook post circulating on social media claimed that the costumes were part of a “team-building activity” among the teachers after school hours. The groups photographed were selected as winners of a contest of who could dress most accurately portraying a country based on stereotypes.
Board of Trustees Chairman Tim Winkle confirmed to the Idaho Press that the information in the post was accurate but said it does not justify the actions.
An executive session was called during the meeting due to the matter relating to personnel issues and ended just before noon. The board’s statement was as follows:
“This type of behavior has no place in education and certainly is not tolerated here at Middleton School District. The 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 we are awaiting the results of the investigation to assure appropriate disciplinary action is taken.
“We care about each of our students, their education, and their safety. This is an unfortunate incident of very poor judgement. Yet it is not indicative of Middleton School District or our teachers as a whole. We have caring staff members who go the extra mile for our students on a daily basis. We are committed to learning and improving our district from this incident and to continue our daily missing of ‘Every child learning every day’ and will do everything we can to insure their success.”
The six-step plan included increased safety measures in partnership with the Middleton Police Department for daily presence at Heights Elementary and deployment of the district’s crisis team on site starting Monday. Extra administrative staff will also be placed at the school.
A member of the crisis team will be moved to Heights Elementary and stand in as acting principal among additional personnel reorganization.
Board member Aleisha McConkie asked if the crisis team will be open for parents who are also seeking assistance, which Superintendent Josh Middleton confirmed it would be.
The investigation that was opened Friday will continue into the coming week, with staff involved on paid administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.
“We’ve all gotten the emails and phones calls with suggestions on what needs to be done,” said Middleton. “But all our employees have due rights.”
An early dismissal day on this upcoming Wednesday, Nov. 7, is planned on being used for training for the entire staff districtwide. The training will include cultural awareness and sensitivity. But it is not a “one and done” process, Middleton said. Training will continue throughout the year and into the future.
“Despite all the events outside of the schools and classroom, and I am talking about every single school, there was teaching going on Friday,” Middleton said. “That is our daily goal is every child learning every day because that’s our business and that’s our daily motto.”
The district will provide information and resources as the investigation continues, the last step of the action plan stated, and take immediate action if needed.
Nampa resident Genesis Gomez-Lara, 24, took work off Saturday to be at the meeting. After growing up in Canyon County, she was shocked at the photos that circulated on social media after seeing them shared on a Hispanic Facebook page.
“I would think our kids would be safe at a public school,” she said. “But it doesn’t feel like it.”
Gomez-Lara said she has friends who are Hispanic parents of kids at the elementary school who didn’t attend the meeting Saturday because they either did not know about the meeting or were too afraid to come.
Shiva Rajbhandari, a 14-year-old student from Boise, stood among those waiting for the executive session to end on Saturday morning. Rajbhandari, whose dad is an immigrant, said that acts of discrimination could easily happen to him and his family.
“What the teachers did, that’s not OK,” he said. “It alienated Latino students. The way that they portrayed their culture made a very political statement, seven days ahead of an election. It was ignorant and there needs to be disciplinary action.”
Thousands of kids will be affected by this, he said, if we let it slide.
Rachel Park, 47, Rajbhandari’s mother, added that she wants to see how the Middleton School District and the Middleton community are going to address this.
“I don’t think online training is going to do the trick,” Park said. “If they are truly sorry, we need to see a significant change and not just with the teachers… I am shocked that there are people that believe that this would be OK.”
A Middleton mom — who declined to give her name — was among the few who came in support of the teachers, after living in Middleton for 15 years and attending Middleton High School.
Everybody makes mistakes, she said. The media only showed one side.
“It’s just our little town, and it’s been divided,” she said. “We all bleed blue and gold.”