It was a careless act of inappropriate politicking in a public school or a joke about President Donald Trump turned into a teaching moment, depending on who you ask.
A Spanish teacher at Roosevelt High School allowed students to take a whack at a piñata that had a picture of President Trump taped on one side. Taped to the other side was a picture of Mexico’s president.
The teacher is now on paid administrative leave pending investigation for what the RE-5J district superintendent called a “disrespectful act.”
The district shut down the high school Monday because of threats in the wake of the story going viral, which Johnstown Police described as non-specific in nature.
9NEWS is choosing not to publish the last names of students involved because of those threats.
The story gained attention from a mom’s Facebook post, which shared photos of the piñata and questioned what was going on in her daughter’s school.
“I only honestly showed it to my mom because I thought it was interesting,” said Haley, a senior at the school who was not in the Spanish class in question. “Just like everyone else did, because it was different.”
Her mom Lesley Hollywood says she was upset because she saw it as “politics in school.”
Her Facebook post didn’t contain the photo that caused her the most alarm, which featured two students posing with the piñata in the classroom and the words “he’s been defeated” added in a Snapchat message.
“The classroom is not a platform for a teacher to expound their political views,” Martin Foster said, the district superintendent.
That’s not what happened, according to a group of students who showed up to the district’s Monday press conference to defend the teacher. Several of them told 9NEWS that the Snapchat message was a joke.
“Some random parent just got upset, got way overexaggerated about something super simple that was harmless,” Tania said, one of the students.
The students say the piñata was brought to class by a student and the photo of President Trump was added by students. When the teacher noticed, they say, he turned into a teaching moment about President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, listing off facts about both presidents to the students.
They’re upset that the district didn’t mention that in their original public message.
“I find it very awful that [Foster] failed to mention that not only was Trump on the piñata but that Mexico’s president was as well,” Ashley said, another student. “If we’re going to keep the press up to date, we should tell the full truth, not half of it.”
Foster told 9NEWS he had heard mention of the picture of Mexico’s president at the time, but not seen photographic evidence of it.
Students have shared photos of the Mexican president on the piñata.
The upset students also accuse Hollywood of trying to stir the pot. Hollywood says she didn’t intend for this to become a national story, she just wanted to know what was going on at the school.
“I’m not on a witch hunt here to get him fired by any means,” Hollywood said. “I’m just a parent who’s concerned. What the heck is going on at my daughter’s school?”
Unless there are other facts about the teacher’s conduct that come to light, Hollywood said she doesn’t believe the incident warrants firing, just some kind of reprimand.
Roosevelt High will reopen with Johnstown police stationed there on Tuesday, Foster said. He promised the group of students who showed up to the news conference a meeting with their principal that day.
Foster declined to say how long he expects the investigation into the teacher’s conduct to take.
The upset students hope to have him back on the job before the school year ends in a few weeks.
The district has not released the name of the teacher and 9NEWS is not naming the teacher at this time since there’s been no official finding of wrongdoing and no accusation of any sort of crime.