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.

Close up of photos

Screengrab of a Facebook post by a NHUHSD District Office Employee.

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.

Zoey Clark

Zoey Clark speaking at a board meeting in October.

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.”

Facebook screenshot of Tammy Pires post

Screenshot of Tammy Pires Facebook post.

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.”

UPDATE: Student Whose Remarks Are Believed to Have Been the Focus of Controversial Facebook Post Writes Letter to NHUHSD Superintendent

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87 comments

  • These people have no idea how to hire that’s for sure. I applied for a job for which I was highly qualified and they ignored me. No contact. No interview. No surprise they would do something so immature and unprofessional. The school districts up here are filled with corrupt employees. Kim Bergel is allowed to teach despite supporting criminal aliens and the so-called “sanctuary” city nonsense. Sanctuary used to mean religious and spiritual protection from harm, not lawbreaking.

    • Last time I checked teachers can support ballot initiatives how they see fit. Her supervisors are not even allowed to ask someone how they vote or what their political views are. Which is the same protection you would be afforded as well, were you to be interviewed or subsequently hired to work in the district. Given that you use this forum to center your own opinions, which are not in alignment with voters in this county (incidentally} it seems at first blush, a prudent decision not to interview you. Your understanding of the definition of Sanctuary and how it differs from Ms. Bergel’s doesnt belong here.

  • These teacher are exceptionally well paid. I supported them by default, until I looked at their salaries.

    • These are the people entrusted BY US to teach our children who often times become a highly??? paid BABYSITTER!!! Especially when your child decides to act out by harassing other students who are attempting to learn something USEFUL!!! But still you think they’re paid too much???? I feel like tehy can’t be paid enough for the work they do in, as well as OUT, of the classroom!!! I may be biased having spent 10 + years volunteering in the local Elementary School classrooms as a Volunteer Teachers Aide!!!

      • I’m pretty thick skinned, and I came to this article expecting some mock outrage by some overly sensitive group. But for what I am seeing here the behavior of the District employees was absolutely outrageous and for the superintendent to try to claim it wasn’t in response to the the student’s comment is truly disgusting.

        “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.””

        Off with their heads!

      • You are putting too high of a value on something that has no physical value. Education is important yes, but not nearly as important as raising well rounded individual who can see both sides of an issue. Adults using these kids to get a higher paycheck is disgusting!

      • You don’t seem to have a coherent point. Did you even bother to look up what they are paid before commenting?

    • No, they’re not. You’re either lying or you have no idea how many hours teachers have to put in, or the class sizes they have to manage.

      • The only way to lie here is by omitting the truth. You can look up their pay for yourself, it is almost insulting how much they are paid, given their required education, work hours and responsibility. The earn more than college professors with PhD’s. I understand very well how many hours teachers put in over a work year. My sister-in-law is a teacher. She is nowhere nearly as well paid as these teachers however.

        You don’t fix excessive class sizes by paying the teachers more, you hire more teachers ,which would be easier if they weren’t raking money in hand over fist. Sounds like your teachers failed to instruct you in reasoning.

    • You have completely missed the heart of this matter. The superintendent and his staff publically mocked a 17 year old who was brave enough to speak up. That is unacceptable. The teachers are supporting this student.

      But if you want to go into pay…I’m not a teacher but I know teachers work long hours at school and often at home to prepare lesson plans and grade work. They will often spend their own money on supplies and snacks for kids who would go without. There are so many things teachers do for the children in our communities, they deserve much more than what they get.

      • You comment as if other occupations do not require many hours outside of the office or regular day to succeed in what they’re doing. I also personally know several teachers/aides that go on month long vacations, in addition to a few week long trips throughout the year. They have the time to do that, and at the heart of this matter, they have the money to do that. It was their greed that catalyzed this drama and division, and their unprofessional manipulation of students/minors to bully an administration where most of them make less than the teachers do. In my experience during get togethers with friends and family members that are teachers, the topic of conversation typically gravitates towards complaining about students and parents (in addition to administration). How ironic that’s who comes to their defense.

      • We disagree on what “the heart of the matter” is here. Sounds like you are another person who simply cant be bothered to look up what these teachers are being paid.

        Maybe these specific teachers should earn more, but that can only be true if nearly all of us should be earning more, as they are very well paid compared to other fields. Why are they more valuable than firefighters, police officers, or college professors?

    • They are paid well, but, that shouldn’t deny them their rightful COLA raise. The superintendent took his and his salary is quite high. They deserve it.

      • The superintendents salary is outrageous! I mean disgusting! Over 100K per year. Exactly how much do they “deserve” in your opinion? What should these teachers earn annually? I bet if you gave an answer, before looking up what they are currently paid, it would be less than they are making now.

  • Sounds like that group came as M&Ms on Halloween but show up as starfish (or rosebuds or balloon knots) every day.

  • snowflakes melting

    actually, it is pretty hilarious. people need to grow a pair.

  • Parents are the problem also

    During my children’s attendance in schools from 4th grade to HS graduation in McKinleyville I was forced to write and state my objections to the principal, superintendent and the board. The result was being notified by people in the community including former board members that the administration and board were closed and in the back pocket of the superintendent. That he has strong armed school principals to his way or the highway. Some teachers were pressured to conform to the superintendent’s policies. He is tantamount to being a dictator. And as to some people’s complaint about teacher salaries they should check Sacramento’s, Redding’s, Santa Rosa’s, Sebastopol’s and any number of other districts teacher salaries. They are all mostly in line with McKinleyville teacher salaries. If anything some on the afore district teacher salaries are substantially higher. And if you don’t think teachers earn their salaries you should talk to teachers about what they are expected to perform in a classroom and out of the classroom of 20 or more students five days a week. They wear so many worker hats it would make your head spin.

    • The school board seats are elected. Anyone who lives in the district over the age of 18 and not a criminal is eligible.
      Anyone with 200 local facebook friends can win.

  • “We’re just ‘sitting here at the cinema eating our m&m’s.’. (That’s not a costume. That’s poking the bear.)

    These lame cowards are giving us adults a bad name. Be role models, not assholes.

  • “ problematic “ .

    I’ll take lefty buzzwords for 1000, Alex….

    Why get offended that someone was eating m&ms in the first place . If you’re that fragile you shouldn’t be a teacher.

    • That wasn’t a teacher who was speaking. That was a student.

      • It’s the amount of comment created by a minor- and yes it’s a very minor- contretemps that is unworthy of so much emotion. In a world of drug abuse, war, disease and termite infestations, a story of very serious young person (common at that age)getting riled at an official pretty jaded with the process (also pretty common) and not totally seriously focussed on them, the young person complaining on it, then the official responding with a minor , should have been more adult riposte must rate below the Kardashians in egocentricity. The official could have taken the speech more seriously, the student taken themself less seriously and the union not tried to make division out of it. There all sorted out.

        • People with a di-ta-dee problem

          Says a most likely a supporter of a narcissistic, pathological liar, wannabe Benito Mussolini, sexual predator Donald Trump. You would probably accept him yet argue this was only a “very minor- contretemps that is unworthy of so much emotion”. I would claim you are a nihilist.

          • Some people wouldn’t know a point when they sit on it. Trump-eting is a version of swatting by liberals. Like bringing up Hitler (Mussolini is a revealing twist on that) they think it is the ultimate put down to end debates where they have no point to make. They go for the personal insult. And for them, in their flailing, spewing hatreds, comparing a person to Trump is as bad as it gets.

        • You want bigger issues, read a state or national news feed. Otherwise [edit]. Some of us care about small town issues, education, and bullying and find this both interesting and worthy of discussion, which would be why we are reading and commenting. Your arrogant overdependence on five-dollar words makes you come off like an underemployed history major with delusions of grandeur. Congrats on your grammar though.

    • You’re threatened by the word “problematic.” Who’s the snowflake?

    • The one noting that the superintendent was disrespectfully eating M&Ms while they were supposed to be listening was a STUDENT. They mocked a 17 yr old girl

  • Sounds to me like much to do about nothing! The teachers were very disrespectful during negotiations, but have a cow over a humorous photo. Sounds to me like Ms. Moore is the one that should apologize for her jumping on any chance to stir things up between a hard working office crew and the community! Chill out ! You got your medical fully paid and your pay increase, don’t keep up your smear campaign! I personally thought it was funny that the employees took Zoey’s remarks to heart and dressed up like a bunch of M&M’s , and I do not believe the meant any offense to her at all!

    • Adults involved in the educational system openly mocking a student who had the guts to speak up at a meeting.
      (Turn on irony font)
      Yeah I guess you are right, much ado,…

      • Your perception and guilt doesn’t exactly make things fact….

        • Yes, I’m puzzled by the perception that the “joke” was mocking the student. It could have been, of course. My interpretation tends toward the idea that the district folks were attempting a little awkward self-deprecating humor. I also notice that any mention that refers in any way to some people is interpreted by them as an attack. Those people often feel free to counter-attack or defend aggressively. I notice this defensiveness in people who have power or privilege and also in those who are discriminated against.

          Now, I don’t have any prior knowledge of any of the “contestants” so I both lack prejudice and context. I hope the superintendent makes the adult move and apologizes for the hurt felt by the student. It might also be big of him to compliment the student publicly on her bravery and principled stand and encourage future strength of character. Then, if it’s true, he might also explain that his awkward joke was aimed at himself.

    • What’s disrespectful about wanting to be paid a decent wage for all the hours they work, not just in the Classroom but at home as well!!! Which is NOT PAID but necessary at times!!!

      • This is interesting.. how do we educate the youth? My belief is that this is simply some folks perspective on humor. I kinda laughed! It doesn’t seem it was intended for harm. Let’s raise strong youth that can handle these types of things, and laugh it off!

      • They are paid for the hours they work considering the amount of vacation time built into their contracts.

      • Well they have 13 more weeks of vacation than the typical American worker, so that means they would have to put in 520 hours outside of school before they are equal with the rest of us. If you add the reality that many of us have additional hours outside of the office, then you are faced with the fact that a teacher’s job is not exceptional, and they’re pay is more than commensurate for effort.

    • Wow. So high school students get paid medical benefits now? Cool.

  • Puhleeze… One word- Halloween. Try to be good-hearted& have a sense of humor. Keep things in perspective: Fires are serious, m&m s, not so much. As an aside tho’, schools would be a lot more fun if as many classes as possible were held outdoors. And make learning relevant & practical! Grow a pizza garden & make every Friday into pizza day. Learn to make dough ( of all kinds!)

    • Mocking the young people for whom you have been given responsibility of care & instruction is not to be taken lightly. The “adults” were wrong and owe an apology.

  • Wouldn’t the post itself be a clear indication of online bullying? If students can’t do that then why can employees of the school get away with it? They should all be fired on the spot for creating a hostile environment for students.

  • I’ll pay for those t-shirts – contact me if interested

  • Am I correct in understanding that the student made a comment to the superintendent and then the m&m costumes & comment were made?
    The superintendent & the entire staff who mocked the concern of the student should be making a public apology, in my opinion.

  • Well, the group mentality of the Administration certainly shows,doesnt it?..Is that an administrator sticking out her tongue?..Hows that to be interpreted?..Jesus.
    To the young lady who spoke her mind and got clowned by these idiots..u got more class in your pinky finger girl,go on n nevermind.:)

  • I feel the message they are sending is “We just don’t care about what you have to say.” And when the guy was eating candy instead of listening to the kid he was saying “Your point of view is not important- your perspective on this issue doesn’t matter”.

  • David Hinson Harris

    I think we have a systemic problem. Fortuna High: Two students were arrest for some plot, principles’ monthly statement was about buying generator.
    This story today.
    Child commits suicide McKinleyville High
    NAACP lawsuit against Eureka high

  • A child disrespects adults. The adults turned it into something funny. Outrage at adults. If that was my kid that spoke that way to them, she would be brought right back in to apologize. The district didnt mock. People need to grow a pair.

    • A student calling out rude behavior is not disrespectful. She was brave. She did not deserve to be mocked by people who are supposed to be role models.

    • That’s all we need, Diane and her therotical daughter running around growing huge pears.

    • Sharia Law 4 Humboldt

      This is what she 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.”
      Would Diane prefer a public hanging or just flogging for the student?

    • Wow ‘Diane’, you are totally off base. We need strong young women ready to speak up for what they believe in. We should all be proud of this awesome your woman… I am. Let’s get rid of that old dogmatic way ‘Diane’ is perpetuating

      • Just think of the outrage that would happen when a real issue came up. Heads would probably explode. It took three readings to even figure out what people were upset about- because it is virtually nothing much. I remember teachers being much more vicious to students than anything that happened here. So a student thought she was disrespected. So what- she’s looking at long life of much, much worse. Like if she ever has a teenage daughter of her own.

        • You don’t think teacher pay is a ‘real’ issue?
          You need some schoolin’, ‘guest’

          • I don’t think eating M&Ms in a meeting is a real issue. The costumes are barely into the realm of a real issue. The outrage is manufactured out of a bad case of tit-for-tatting. But go ahead, equate that with the Holocaust. That seems to be the level of outrage going on.

  • As a public education teacher in a school district located in the Bay Area, I am disgusted by the actions of the superintendent and his staff. It seems that this school district is very top down! A public apology should be made to the student and teachers. These actions are immature and insulting. It sounds like the time has come for a new superintendent and staff. Out with the old, in the a new person who respects and values our students, children and teachers!

  • The one noting that the superintendent was disrespectfully eating M&Ms while they were supposed to be listening was a STUDENT. They mocked a 17 yr old girl

  • Really?..One of those well paid administrators is actually sticking out her tongue..”All in jest” my behind..nice example of respect.

  • As a not-so-wise man said, “There were good people on both sides.” What he should’ve said was, “there is bad on both sides”, and that’s what applies to this current conflict. The only winner or silver lining in this ongoing situation is the unbiased critical thinking going on at the Pepperbox. Good job Fiona and Angel.

  • Billy Casomorphin

    Honestly, can’t anyone in Humboldt grow the heck up, already?

    Childish behavior, insensitivity, making jokes about the remarks of others, and rude posts on FB… Yikes!

    The internet only lasts a few weeks, but people remember.

    I am reminded of a certain individual, after getting an Engineering degree, and a Master’s in Information Systems, who Tweeted an offhand remark about a potential employer, that caused her to have to change her name, in order to get her first job!

    People are stupid to be offended, but they are, and by the slightest of slights. This M&M stunt is as silly and non-circumspect as “Rex Bohn’s Mexican Food Joke”, and this stuff will make these folks famous, until they decide to leave their current jobs and carry on somewhere else.

    I was fired, once, in SoHum, for taking my scheduled vacation. I suppose this offense is smaller, but watch out for the blow-back, when working in a place as insular, provincial, puerile and small-minded as Humboldt County!

  • Who is next up the chain? This is obscene and no intelligent person can miss the pettiness of the superintendent and staff’s decision to dress as M&M’s and then Tammy Pires’ decision to gloat about it on FB.

  • There are so many people perpetually offended.

  • Ms Clark made a polite objection to behavior she felt was rude. In turn, it appears she has been exposed to mass mockery by her educators. It remains to be seen how educational this experience has been for her, and what has been learned.

  • I have to say that I normally think people get offended easily, but I have to agree that the superintendent and staff behavior was kind of over the top.

    My parents were teachers in Humboldt in the 1960s – 1980s and they didn’t make a lot of money back in those days. I have no idea what they are paid now, but I do know we helped them correct papers and they worked into every evening.

  • So take Joann Moore, the teacher in this well written article, for example. As of 2017, she was paid $81,000 for a 181 day contract. Her total compensation including benefits was $111,000. Considering that is for 13 weeks less work than the rest of us, they could take an additional 3 weeks of vacation and still have 2 months left to make another $4,000 at minimum wage.

  • Disappointed AHS Alumni

    I graduated Arcata High twenty years ago, and now I work in HR for a private company but still have close ties to the district. A district employee forwarded me an email Tammy Pires sent the entire staff of AHS, the school board, and the student where she completely admitted that the intention with the M&M t-shirts was to have a little fun at the expense of the student’s comments. She thought that “fun” was aimed at staff, who hurt her feelings when they clapped for the student at the board meeting. A letter published on Facebook by a staff member details how Suzie McCrae- a district administrator called and wanted to make amends as she understood what they did was wrong. But the head of the district, Roger MacDonald is denying any prior knowledge of the intent – so what does it say about him? That he is a liar. The idea that the leadership (there are several administrators in that photo like Cindy Vicors – the Assistant Superintendent) participated in “making fun” of the staff and/or student commentary during a contentious time is disturbing.

    For those of you who think the teachers make a lot, Tammy Pires makes more than the highest paid teacher plus full benefits as a secretary. She is the highest paid clerical staff in the district. Roger MacDonald’s salary and benefits is over 200,000 a year. The other administrators in that photo make anywhere from 90,000 plus benefits to 135000 plus benefits. All of this information was handed out at a board meeting. Because they feel they deserve higher salaries than anyone at the site level, they should be held to the same or higher professional and ethical standards because they are leaders in the district.

    At the very least, this shows poor taste, horrible leadership skills and a lack of connection to their school sites, at the most it is mean spirited. What a sad way to represent what was once a great school district.

    • This seems like disinformation to me, unless some very large salary increases were handed out to clerical and accounting staff in the last 2 years. According to the most recent (2017) public records of nohum district salaries on transparent California, at least half of the teaching staff makes more than the superintendent’s secretary. It really isn’t shocking that her position is the highest paid clerical position in the school district. In most agencies and organizations, the drama and crises float to the top and the legal liabilities increase as you go up. That’s why it’s surprising she made the error of the FB post, but the premise that teachers are underpaid and she is overpaid is apparently disinformation.

      • Disappointed AHS Alumni

        Very large increases were handed out in the last two years. Check the school board records. The Superintendent’s Secretary makes more than the highest amount allowed on the teacher’s salary at this point, plus benefits. This is not misinformation even if it difficult for you to believe.

        • Where are the school board records found? Why should I believe some anonymous internet poster over what has been a very accurate and reliable database? Are you saying that when it states that Joann Moore’s total compensation package was over $110k in 2017 it is a false record?

    • The fact that a secretary,clerical ,and accounting make more than teachers is awful..The fact that they have the minds and actions of 7th graders makes it worse..I hope someone looks into this.

  • Disappointed AHS Alumni

    Transparent California is dedicated to dismantling unions. I personally know the first four “teachers” listed on that site are actually administrators for the small schools and paid an administrative salary, not a teacher’s salary. All of that information is right on the district website. Transparent California is not even based in California, it has no legal responsibility for posting correct information, and many teachers publicly stated the salary posted next to their names were gross exaggerations. But go ahead and believe whatever you read on the internet – it’s a great way to live. Not.

  • Maybe part of the reason that the district office is so dysfunctional and inept is because the only color other than white is on their shirts.

  • I can possibly give the benefit of doubt to the other staff who participated, but not to Roger McDonald and Tammy Pires. This is absolutely unacceptable behavior. They should be fired.

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