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Idaho’s Border-Wall-Costume School Cited in 2016 for Segregating Classrooms by Sex

November 4, 2018

Fourteen Middleton School District (Idaho) teachers and staff have been suspended with pay pending results of an investigation into actions related to the employees’ choosing to dress up as a border wall and Mexicans on Halloween, for what district superintendent Josh Middleton identified as a “week-long team building activity,” according to CBS 2:

“We have talked to the principal and our assistant superintendent human resources director now is conducting interviews up at the elementary school and just to be safe we have beefed up security at our schools,” Middleton says.

He tells CBS 2 that the costumes came from a week-long team building activity, which he says was meant to focus on acts of respect and kindness.

“There were six countries, two of those countries decided to get with the theme and chose to dress in those outfits,” Middleton says.

In efforts to address the situation, Middleton and the school board have posted the following message to the community on the school web page:

Important Message

November 3, 2018

Middleton School District Parents and Community:

I want to bring you up to date on events within the district during this difficult time for our Middleton School District students, staff, and community.

Our school board held a special Board meeting this morning at 10 am.  The purpose of this meeting was to update them on the events involving Halloween day costumes and a photo posting from Heights Elementary.  No action could be taken at this Board meeting besides a statement concerning these events given to the public at the end of the meeting.  Here is the statement from our school board.


November 3, 2018

The Middleton School District Board of Trustees statement in regards to the photo that was recently circulated.

This type of behavior has no place in education and certainly is not tolerated here at Middleton School District. This situation is being taken very seriously. We are in full support of our Superintendent and administrative staff as a full investigation is being conducted, and are awaiting the results of the investigation to assure appropriate disciplinary action is taken.  We care about each of our students, their education, and their safety. This is an unfortunate incident of very poor judgment.  Yet it is not indicative of the Middleton School District or our teachers as a whole. We have caring staff members who go the extra mile for our students on a daily basis.  We are committed to learning and improving our district from this incident and to continue with our daily mission of Every Child Learning every day, and will do everything we can to ensure their success.

Middleton School Board


As always, I really appreciate our school boards dedication to our students, staff, while representing you in all areas of our mission.

Important Plan for ALL our MSD staff

The events of this week we take very seriously.  As hard as these events are for ALL involved, we must learn from this and be better as an entire staff for our students, parents, and the community we represent.  Effective immediately those involved have been put on administrative leave and we need to please respect their privacy during this time.  We are still in an investigative stage of these events.  We will ensure our students have the appropriate staffing during this time. Below is our immediate plan for our MSD staff starting today.

  • All staff involved in the incident are on administrative leave.
  • To ensure safety for all, there will be daily presence of security at Heights Elementary.
  • To support the social-emotional well-being, for students, staff and parents, the District Crisis Team will be present at Heights Elementary.
  • This Wednesday, November 7, there will be an all staff meeting for the purpose of cultural sensitivity training. Training will continue throughout this school       year and at the start of each school year moving forward.
  • Effective Monday, November 5th, extra administrative presence will be Heights Elementary.
  • The District will adjust and provide resources and information as the week(s) progress and take immediate action as needed.

Middleton is under a microscope, and I view this as an opportunity to learn and grow from this incident, and even more create enhanced learning environments where Every Child Learning Every Day is wrapped in Every Child Shown Kindness, Respect and Love Everyday.


Dr. M
Middleton School District 134

All Students Learning
Outstanding Instruction
Each and Every Day

It seems that the 14 individuals suspended represent a substantial proportion of the  Heights Elementary faculty. (Though the district has restricted public access to the school’s staff directory, I was able to access archived files, which I will not link to here for the sake of honoring their desire for privacy.)

The school appears to have a total of approximately 40 teachers and admin. I was able to view 35 of the profiles. Of those 35, I saw only one teacher who is a person of color.

Cultural sensitivity training should have been a regular part of faculty inservice long ago– perhaps as part of the federal directive to ditch stereotyping that resulted in separating students into single-sex classes.


In November 2016, ACLU Idaho filed a complaint stating that Heights Elementary was in violation of federal law for segregating its classrooms by sex:

November 30, 2016

BOISE, Idaho- The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has found Middleton School District in violation of federal law for segregating students into single-sex classrooms at Middleton Heights Elementary School. The federal agency’s finding came in response to a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Idaho (ACLU), documenting violations of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, at Middleton Heights Elementary School.

Through information obtained as part of the ACLU’s “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, the ACLU documented how Middleton Heights Elementary segregated students into a single-sex classrooms based on the theory that boys and girls learn differently and thus need to be separated in class and taught using radically different methods. In findings released last week, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights concluded that the single-sex classrooms at Middleton Heights Elementary violated Title IX.

Middleton Heights Elementary had been segregating students on the basis of sex in second through fourth grades for a decade, from 2006 through 2015, based on the debunked theories of Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax, two private education consultants who have written popular books espousing the theory that boys’ and girls’ brains are fundamentally different. The District adopted these theories and implemented them in the classroom, explaining to parents that “boys and girls learn differently” and that their purpose was “to educate according to those differences.” The school did this by, for example, providing boys with more space to move around, asking boys questions about actions in English class and girls questions about characters’ emotions, and emphasizing competition for boys and cooperation for girls.

During the investigation, the school district’s stated rationale for the segregation was that boys were reading at a lower level than girls, and therefore needed teaching more directed at boy students. However, the Department of Education concluded that the District had not adequately justified separating the boys from the girls for all subjects in all grades. The Department of Education further found that the boys’ classrooms had lower student-to-teacher ratios than its girls’ and coed classrooms, in all instances except one. Similarly, although the District’s stated objective for single-sex instruction for girls was to “improve math and science interest and proficiency among girls,” the Department of Education found that the District “provided no data showing that girls attending MHES were underachieving in math and science.” In both cases, the Department found that the school had failed to provide justification for single-sex instruction across all subjects and for different grade levels.

“We are pleased that Middleton Heights Elementary will return to a coeducational model,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “School children in Middleton Heights Elementary deserve educational improvements, but there is no evidence that single-sex classrooms are effective in improving outcomes. Strategies for improving instruction should be based on solid evidence, not pseudoscience and stereotypes about the way boys and girls learn and behave.”

As a result of the ACLU’s complaint and the Department of Education’s investigation, Middleton Heights Elementary School has agreed to return to coeducational classrooms beginning with this school year. Under a Resolution Agreement with the Department of Education, signed by Middleton School District’s Superintendent on October 31, 2016, the District will institute training for administration and staff related to Title IX, and will remain under Department of Education supervision at least through the end of the 2019–2020 school year.

“It took the Department of Education several years to conclude its investigation, but we are glad to see that it has been resolved to the benefit of students,” commented Leo Morales, ACLU of Idaho Executive Director. “Moving forward, we hope the school will honor the unique learning styles of each individual student, as opposed to letting gender stereotypes dictate teaching methods.”

Heights Elementary faculty must overcome stereotyping. They simply must. It is not enough to excuse ignorant behavior in the name of good intentions. Reinforcing stereotypes harms students. Stereotyping hinders healthy growth, damages human dignity and destroys trust.

I hope this terrible costume situation is truly a turning point in defying stereotypes for the Heights Elementary faculty.



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  1. I have heard through my Idaho teacher friends that Middleton school district had a strict policy prohibiting students from speaking their home language of Spanish- this policy was not rescinded until 2005.

  2. LisaM permalink

    I find the Halloween costume incident absolutely abhorrent and I can’t even begin to comment about the mindset of the teachers/admin involved. As for the previous complaint of segregating the classrooms by gender, maybe they were actually trying to do something good for the children on a stretched budget? We cannot deny that girls and boys DO learn very differently. Public school has been a nightmare for my son (my daughter remains in public HS) and we have placed him in a private Catholic Boys HS and the difference in his attitude and work ethic is like night and day. Boys really do need shorter class times and more movement/activity built into their schooling in order for them to learn. For the first time ever, my son LOVES school, likes his teachers and can’t stop talking about what he is learning.

  3. Middleton is part of greater Boise. I grew up just down the road from there. This is one of the whitest areas of the world. I was seventeen years old before I ever met a black person and the few Mexican kids in my school were completely white washed. When I saw those photos, I thought that is a bunch of teachers having fun and they are clueless to the fact that this behavior would offend anyone. I see them as being guilty of ignorance and are probably otherwise idealistic wonderful people. It seems to me that all of the school districts there need sensitivity training and these teachers need to be back in there classrooms. With the wages Idaho pays for teachers, they are needed and they are not beyond hope racists. They are people who have biases they are not even aware of and will grow if provided some leadership and an opportunity.

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