Josh Middleton, superintendent of the Middleton School District, spoke out Friday after the now-deleted photos of Heights Elementary School staff members sparked outrage and controversy.
"I was shown those photos and (was) deeply troubled by the decision by our staff members to wear those costumes that are clearly insensitive and inappropriate," Middleton said in a video statement posted to Facebook.
In one of the photos, which were copied and circulated on social media before their deletion, six employees are dressed as pieces of a cardboard wall painted to resemble bricks. “Make America Great Again” is spelled out in red, white and blue letters, and one woman has a crown and torch as the Statue of Liberty. Another waves an American flag and a third wears a patriotic-themed hat.
In a second photo, several employees are dressed in garishly colorful ponchos, sombreros and fake mustaches. They pose and shake maracas for the camera.
One Idaho resident who posted the photos to her own Facebook page wrote that she was angry.
"Hate is everywhere," Sherry Scheline wrote. "Teachers presenting this is not only in poor taste, it is mortifying. I would find this costume offensive out at the bar. I find it more offensive in the school. No matter where you stand on immigration this is offensive."
Tagging the school district in her post, she said officials should be ashamed of themselves.
Administrators of the Idaho DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Facebook page also posted the photos, describing them as "extremely disheartening" and said that all children have the right to a school that celebrates all cultural backgrounds.
"Imagine how some of the students felt when they walked into their classrooms on Halloween and saw their teachers (people they look up to) dressed like this?" the statement read. "This is NOT funny. This is heartbreaking. Students deserve better."
Middleton said district officials' time is being devoted to investigating the incident and the "poor decisions" made by the faculty and staff members involved.
"I want to say, we are better than this," Middleton said. "We embrace all students. We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students, period."
Middleton said he first heard about the costumes from a concerned parent Thursday night.
"Do I think that there was a malicious intent in this poor decision? No, I don't," Middleton said. "Was there poor judgment involved? Absolutely. And we now have to own those decisions."
The Middleton School District has six schools in the city of Middleton, which is about 40 miles west of Boise. According to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, there were just over 7,400 residents last year.
About 9.5 percent of those residents are Hispanic or Latino, the data shows. The estimates also show fewer than 2 percent of the population is Asian or American Indian, and none are black.
About 86 percent of the population is white.