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In the midst of a heated Halloween costume controversy, Northern Humboldt Union High School District Superintendent Roger Macdonald has issued a statement apologizing for the impression that he and other school administrators were mocking a student with their holiday outfits.
Reached by phone, Macdonald said he sent the statement to all of the district’s students and staff, and he offered to send it to anyone else who was upset by the incident.
Asked if there was anything else he wanted to add, Macdonald said he would just ask the community to “lay off the kid,” referring to Arcata High senior Zoey Clark, who’s been criticized in some social media posts and online comments. “Consider that she’s a minor and she did nothing wrong,” Macdonald said.
Here’s his statement:
Good Afternoon Northern Humboldt Union High School District Community,
At the October 9, 2019 Board meeting, a strong, courageous student addressed the Board on a subject of importance to her. I know what bravery it takes for a youth to go to that podium, look at all the adults on the dias, gather herself, and speak her truth to the room. She was participating in school governance, and I know the Board and I are always proud to see such conduct.
While she was speaking, she noted that some Board members and staff were eating M&Ms, implying that the student speaker was entertainment, and the student called out these adults’ behavior by saying it was “as if they were at the cinema.”
The district staff meant no disrespect to the student by their actions, but unconsciously conveyed to the student that she was not getting the attention that she was due.
Which brings me to a recent incident that has caused pain to this student and others who felt disrespected by our staff due to a related act of obliviousness. On Halloween, some of our District Office staff, including me, chose to wear M&M T-shirts as our office costume. It seemed like an easy outfit to join the Halloween spirit. We took a group picture after work.
The October 9th Board meeting was the furthest thing from my mind when we chose to wear these shirts. This illustrates how when we are not thinking of matters from every perspective, we can make mistakes. This was one such mistake with significant consequences to our communities’ trust in our good intentions.
Then, it was compounded by a social media post. After work, one of our staff posted on a private Facebook account a photo of us, and a reference to what the student said at the Board meeting, i.e. that we were all “just sitting here at the cinema.”
I do not believe the intent was to mock this student. I certainly heard no such mockery while I was at work. But intent and effect are two different things. Since Friday, the Facebook post has spread like wildfire throughout our community.
I understand the widespread public criticism and apologize to all who were or are offended by the District staff’s actions, including my own. I wish I had recognized the poor choice of that costume given its proper context, and I failed to do that.
The staff member’s choice to quote the student in a private post was also not a good choice. I wish the only impression that was left from this incident was admiration for what a brave student we had in this speaker, who spoke her mind at the Board meeting and, later, to me about this incident in an email.
The student in question does not deserve any negative attention that this incident and the subsequent conversations across our District and social media have caused. I have spoken with her family several times and look forward to the opportunity to apologize in person. I and my staff send our sincerest apologies to the student and express our deepest regret for this incident.