A Chicago school’s principal has been suspended after a student wore a German soldier’s uniform onstage and gave a Nazi salute during a Halloween costume contest.
Jones College Prep Principal Joseph Powers was photographed next to a student in an offensive costume at the school’s Halloween competition on Oct. 31, which was posted on Twitter.
In alarming footage also shared on Twitter, the student is seen goose-stepping across a stage and performing a Nazi salute as audience members expressed their disgust.
Some students were alarmed when they saw the boy dressed as a Communist-era East German soldier, but Powers told them not to worry, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I tried to explain the context and time period of the uniform to the students who spoke with me, but apparently the student who wore the uniform may have told people it was from the 1940s,” Powers wrote.
“I spoke with him this afternoon and explained the same thing to him and the inferences others may have drawn,” he continued.
However, the administrator of the prestigious selective enrollment school in the South Loop encountered immense criticism over his reaction to the event.
“We instantly felt disturbed by what we saw,” senior Isis Gullette said.
A staff member told Block Club Chicago that one student was so distraught by the display that they took a mental-health day off after the contest to recover.
The student, who spoke to the outlet on condition of anonymity, said that the boy wearing a uniform has made racist comments in the past.
The student who took a day off from school “is Jewish and queer, and they don’t feel supported or safe at the school. The behavior never changes, and [Powers] never does anything about it,” the staff member said.
“There are never consequences. If you have enough powerful white parents in your corner, you can do whatever the f— you want,” the employee said.
On Wednesday, in his first message to parents about the situation, Powers wrote: “Many of our students and staff came to school on Monday, October 31, dressed in Halloween costumes. We held a costume contest in the afternoon during Ac Lab, which was fun and well-received.”
“Amid all the other costumes, a member of our school community wore a military surplus army uniform. Staff and students expressed their concerns about the uniform, believing that it represented an expression of antisemitism. Additionally, a video of the costume parade has since appeared on social media,” he wrote.
“I certainly understand and regret the discomfort and harm felt by some members of our school community. Please be assured that we take the well-being of all students seriously and do not tolerate hateful expressions of any kind. In this situation, it certainly appears this was not the intent of the Halloween costume,” Powers continued.
But after receiving more negative responses, he sent a separate email to the school community.
“Let me say clearly and plainly that what occurred caused harm to many of our students and staff who recognized this as an act of anti-Semitism,” he wrote.
“Let me also say clearly and plainly that intolerance, bigotry, and bias-based behaviors have no place in our school … We want you to know that we are addressing this situation directly with the member of our school community who wore the costume in accordance with protocols for processing bias-based harm,” the principal continued.
On Friday, Chicago Public Schools announced that Powers has been suspended.
“As many of you may have heard, seen, or read, there was an incident earlier this week where a member of one of our school communities wore a German military uniform to school as a Halloween costume — an act that was widely recognized by many students, staff and members of our broader CPS community as anti-Semitic,” schools chief Pedro Martinez stated.
“This incident caused harm to many students and staff, and it is completely inconsistent with our values as a school district,” he stated.
“In response, CPS has launched a full investigation into the incident in accordance with our district’s protocols for processing bias-based harm. … Furthermore, CPS has removed the school’s leader from their principal duties, effective immediately, pending the results of that investigation,” Martinez continued.
A student walkout is planned for Nov. 14 to protest against what they perceive as the administration’s mishandling of racial and ethnic discrimination at Jones, according to a social media post advertising the event.
Senior Yamali Rodas said she plans to participate.
“I’m kind of disappointed in the way that administration has responded,” Rodas, the head of the school’s Association of Latin American Students, told the Sun-Times.
“They should have set him aside and had a conversation with him about why it was inappropriate,” Rodascontinued.
Cassie Creswell, parent of one of the students in Powers’ class, said that he should have made the boy take off the outfit and called his parents to talk about it as soon as he saw it.
“I’m very concerned. I have been tracking the rise in right-wing extremism in the suburbs for a while now, and this is a real thing, and its connection to actual physical violence is a real thing, and to have the response from the school be what it was, it’s very disturbing,” Creswell, who used to preside over the Local School Council, told the Sun-Times.
Powers has faced controversy before.
Earlier this year, he barely escaped the local school council’s plan to get rid of him. The main reasons were that he was said to have broken the district’s residency requirement by keeping a primary home in Missouri, neglected teacher misconduct complaints, and created an unwelcoming environment for students and employees of color as well as transgender and gender-nonconforming children.
The Chicago Teachers Union has also released a statement about the oppose siting views of the incident. Some say that the principal has been facing years of racism issues and others say that these claims are false.
“Everyone at Jones suffers as behavior such as this goes unchecked and undisciplined, and for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools to keep the current administration in place shows their lack of regard for the families, faculty and staff they should be protected,” said union rep Chris Geovanis.
On Friday, the CTU demanded Powers’s resignation.
“We call on him to resign — and if he refuses, for CPS to remove him from his leadership position at Jones,” the union said stated.