As children, we’re constantly being told to think twice. To look across the street both ways twice. To check the spelling of our words twice. This is why I was astonished when a group of elementary school teachers and staff members didn’t think twice before donning racially insensitive Halloween costumes.
Fourteen school teachers and staff members from the Middleton School District in Middleton, Idaho, were suspended Saturday after facing harsh criticism for their group Halloween costume.
The school staff held a bonding activity in celebration of Halloween, and each group was given a culture to base a costume on. One of the groups chose to dress up as President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. Another group chose to wear ponchos and sombreros to represent Mexican culture. The group made the poor decision to take pictures of their costumes which were posted on Facebook.
Backlash against the employees came almost immediately after the photos were posted on social media. The images showed the group dressed in their costumes, with half of those pictured dressed as the border wall and the other half of the group shown wearing ponchos and sombreros.
Middleton School District Superintendent Josh Middleton announced during the following school board meeting all of those employees who participated would be placed on administrative leave.
In such a divisive time in American politics, there are few places that remain untouched by political tensions. Certainly, elementary schools should be one of these places, but in this case, it wasn’t. There are so many symbols and figures that could represent American culture, yet these employees chose perhaps the most divisive symbol for America.
Although this event happened after school hours, it became a public issue that concerned students and their parents as soon as the photos were posted on social media.
Although these employees may not have been ill-intentioned, they were insensitive. I don’t believe any of these members of the school district’s staff set out with the intention of insulting anyone’s race or culture, but they did and now they have to respond to those feelings in a hopefully more sensitive manner than they did before.
The decision to suspend the employees was a good one on part of the school board, and now I am hopeful the school board will also make cultural competency training mandatory. For some students, their school is their only place of stability and safety, and it’s a shame some teachers have not been trained to be sensitive of other cultures.
Elizabeth Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EJMarshall_.
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