The principal of a prominent Chicago high school has been removed from his duties over the handling of a student’s German military officer costume on Halloween.
A student donned the outfit for a costume contest on Halloween at Jones College Prep high school — an act “widely recognized by many students, staff” as “antisemitic,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement Friday.
Video of the incident circulated online, appearing to show the student doing a goose-stepping march and a salute on a small stage as a chorus of boos are heard.
As a result, the school district launched an investigation in accordance with district protocols for “processing bias-based harm” and Principal Joseph Powers was removed from his duties pending the results of the investigation, Martinez said.
“This incident caused harm to many students and staff, and it is completely inconsistent with our values as a school district. It also comes at a time when hateful speech and hateful attacks are on the rise, especially against Jewish Americans,” Martinez said.
NBC News has reached out to Powers and the high school for comment. The district offered no further comment apart from Martinez’s statement.
In a letter to staff last week, Powers said that students pointed out the costume to him, which he said was supposed to be a Communist-era East German soldier and not a Nazi.
“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, NBC Chicago reported.
In an e-mail to parents Powers said the situation should have been handled differently.
“As more information has come to light, including additional video of the incident and through conversations with our staff and students, we realize that this has greatly impacted our community and acknowledge that we should have handled the incident with greater care, and communicated more clearly with the school community about the nature of the incident,” Powers said, according to NBC Chicago.
“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 antisemitism. Let me also say clearly and plainly that intolerance, bigotry, and bias-based behaviors have no place in our school,” he continued.
This isn’t Powers’ first controversy at the elite selective enrollment high school near the city’s downtown.
Earlier this year there were unsuccessful efforts to oust him by the Local School Council, alleging that he violated the district’s residency requirement by having a primary home in Missouri, failed to properly handle teacher misconduct complaints, and created an unwelcoming environment for some students and staff, the station reported.