Halloween Costumes and a Facebook Post Upset NHUHSD Community
Story by NHUHSD students: Angel Barker and Fiona Seibert
A Facebook post showing Halloween costumes by staff at Northern Humboldt Union High School District sparked outrage after it seemingly mocked a student in the district.
On October 31, a private Facebook post made by Tammy Pires, the superintendent’s secretary showed the staff of the district office and Superintendent Roger MacDonald wearing M&M costumes. Along with the post was a caption which at first read, “We’re just ‘sitting here at the cinema eating our m&m’s.’ My co-workers are so awesome!!”
That was later edited to, “My co-workers are so awesome!!”
To the people involved, the caption may have seemed innocuous, but others found it problematic.
At the last district board meeting senior, Zoey Clark addressed the board of her concerns about the teacher contract negotiations.
As she spoke, she looked up to see the superintendent and his secretary eating M&M’s and said, “I see you guys up here, no offense, eating M&M’s like it’s some kind of cinema show watching teachers beg for the money they deserve. I mean no disrespect in that but I do find it rude.”
The costumes and the caption were connected with Clark’s statement by several people and tensions in the district (which has only recently concluded contract negotiations) flared up.
Superintendent Roger MacDonald defended the situation saying, “I categorically tell you that there was 100% no effort to do anything other than have a Halloween costume.”
As word spread, teachers became aware of the situation. In a public statement regarding the issue, JoAnn Moore, Arcata High English teacher expressed her concern, “I am horrified about the repugnant behavior exhibited by the NoHUM District Office Administration and Confidential staff in the Halloween social media post. There is no excusing public mockery, shaming, or bullying of a student’s public Board comments—ever.”
Many students called the superintendent and the District Office staff out on various social media platforms. “Imagine being an adult that mocks a seventeen year old standing up for what they believe in,” said senior Em Boyle, who had also spoken at the board meeting.
As the news began to spread, many parents began to express their concerns about the situation. “A ‘good leader’ does not take criticism (especially from a child) and allow it to be [displayed] publically or via social media. This is highly inappropriate and bully type behavior,” said parent Michelle Bisgrove in an email sent to employees in the district.
A pamphlet made available by the district about bullying and cyberbullying, states,
The District and each of its school sites work to prevent all forms of bullying. Cyber bullying includes, but is not limited to, the following misuses of technology: harassing, teasing, intimidating, threatening, or terrorizing another student or staff member by way of any technological tools such as sending or posting an inappropriate or derogatory email, message, telephone message, instant message, text message, digital picture or image, or website posting.
Each staff member shall be responsible to maintain an educational environment free of bullying and cyberbullying while maintaining a proactive approach utilizing research proven techniques for bullying prevention.
Many have brought up the point that if the roles were reversed, and the students were the ones who made the post, there would be repercussions. Teacher JoAnn Moore commented, “You could be suspended or expelled.”
Parents, teachers and students alike are calling for a public apology from the staff of the district office, but one is yet to be made. MacDonald stated that he has reached out to Clark’s family, and hopes to formally apologize, but did not comment on any other future actions to be taken.
With this event building on top of the negotiations from previous months, relations between staff, students, and the district office are tense. “It’s a continued loss of trust,” said Meghan Froloff, English and Journalism teacher at Six Rivers.
Superintendent MacDonald showed an interest in attempting to combat these feelings, stating, “The stress that has been created is taking a toll on everyone and we, as adults need to take a step back […] we need to slow the rhetoric down.”
Teachers, however, just add it to the list of how the district has proven to be untrustworthy.
“Obviously [the leadership] is not functioning well, more than that, it appears that it is functioning at a disturbing level,” proclaimed Moore. “As a teacher we often have to give voice to the voiceless. So the idea that a student would be brave enough at such a public form to people in such power and then to be mocked and shamed on social media is repugnant. And it shows a lack of leadership ability. There is no other option here except for the superintendent to resign and the people involved to be punished.”
The overall feeling that has been presented by students and staff is that the situation that has taken place is distasteful, irresponsible, and unprofessional, “And they wonder why we don’t want to come to school,” voiced senior Davis Bell.
As for the student Zoey Clark, she said she “felt pretty personally attacked.”