MIDDLETON — Parents rallied around a suspended principal at the Middleton School Board’s first monthly meeting since the district placed 14 employees on administrative leave after they wore costumes of racial stereotypes and a “border wall” during a school team-building exercise.
Many of the 50-plus attendees at the packed Nov. 12 were there to ask officials to reinstate Kim Atkinson, the principal of Middleton Heights Elementary, where the incident took place. Atkinson is the only person who has not yet been reinstated.
Only three individuals spoke before the board. School board chairman Tim Winkle asked speakers to refrain from comments or complaints about specific individuals.
“I know most of you signed up to speak on one of the administration leave individuals, but please don’t mention specific people, as we are prohibited from doing so,” Winkle said.
Several others ceded their time slots to Brenda Pickrel, a Middleton parent who said the board’s decisions put student safety “into harm’s way” and “tore our small town apart.”
“This is our school district. We live here, not the rest of the world,” Pickrel said.
Subsequent speakers told the board they were “outraged” and “appalled” at what they said is censorship of the staff who had been suspended.
“A lot of voices have been silenced, and it’s wrong,” Jay Arehart said during his time slot.
Arehart was one of several attendees wearing apparel representing the Idaho Three Percenters group.
After the meeting adjourned, Pickrel told the Statesman that she knows Atkinson personally.
“She wants to come back. She loves the students, she loves that building,” Pickrel said.
In an interview after the meeting, Superintendent Josh Middleton said Atkinson was still on paid administrative leave.
He said Brian Rothe, assistant principal at Middleton High School, would replace Mark Hopkins as the interim principal at the elementary school until her investigation is resolved.
“With the (employees) who’ve come back, we’ve closed the book on (their investigations),” Middleton told the Statesman.