Investigation Started and Apology Made Over M&M Controversy

Fiona Murphy, Editor-in-Chief

November 5, 2019

The original Facebook post. The first sentence was later deleted.

The Nohum school board initiated an investigation into the events surrounding the district office on Halloween lead by an outside investigator as well as an attorney. Pending the results, the board will make a decision on the consequences for the district employees  involved.

“I can’t speak for the board, but personally, I understand the concerns that people have raised.  We need to ensure we gather all the information necessary to make an appropriate decision,” Brian Gerving,school board president, said.

Macdonald has made a public apology for his actions and started efforts to repair the damage done. Today he spent time on the Arcata High campus speaking and listening to students. He believes that together, the district can heal. 

 The apology states the choice to dress as M&M’s as a mistake, the superintendent’ maintains  was unrelated to the statements made by Zoey Clark. He stated that the board meeting was “the furthest thing from my mind when we chose to wear these shirts.” He went on to explain that he was unaware of any malicious intent within the costume choice or Facebook post but acknowledged the negative impact. 

“I wish I had recognized the poor choice of that costume given its proper context, and I failed to do that. The staff member’s choice to quote the student in a private post was also not a good choice,” Macdonald wrote. 

Read the full apology from Superintendent Macdonald here.

Tammy Pires, the staff member who made the Facebook post, expressed that she was deeply apologetic but could not comment further. 

Zoey Clark, the student at the center of the controversy found these apologies lacking.

“I don’t think it was an apology at all. He never said the words ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s exactly what he’s been saying to my family this whole time, just rephrased,” Clark said. 

Many district teachers carry doubt over the legitimacy of Macdonald’s pleading ignorance..

“I do not think the apology was sufficient because I and many others find it hard to believe that no one at the District Office had the Board Meeting in mind when the decision was made to dress as M&Ms,” Tiffany Bullman, Mckinleyville social science teacher, said. 

According to Bullman, four of those pictured were present at the board meeting where Clark made her comment. The superintendent and his secretary, who made the Facebook post, were sitting with the board while Clark made her comments.  

Some teachers also take issue with the seeming lack of accountability coming from the district office. They cited previous instances of promises without real action. 

“Honestly, it felt more like a sort of half-hearted effort to once again offer excuses rather than take responsibility,” Alex Kantner, an Arcata High English teacher, said. 

The superintendent emphasized his deep regret over the event and profound desire repair any pain caused in an interview with Pepperbox. However, after months of contentious union negotiations, the relationship between district office staff and site staff remains frayed and the district is heavy with tension, 

Challenges loom as the district charts a course forward. JoAnn Moore, English teacher and negotiations chair, among others have called for the resignation of those pictured, including Superintendent Macdonald. 

“They need to provide [Macdonald] with notice and begin the process of finding an effective and experienced replacement,” Ilza Hankenen, McKinleyville English teacher, said.

However, this  approach is not shared by all staff members. Other staff favor a more measured approach to begin the healing process.

“What the community needed to hear in a public apology was a simple acknowledgement of wrongdoing and owning up to it, a genuine apology for it, and a statement of intent to do better,” Taylor LeBlanc, a McKinleyville English teacher, said, “As a district employee, the impact that this has had on our district relations is devastating. This incident has only continued to deepen the divide between teachers and the district office staff.”

Social media director Zelda Geren spoke to teachers and students to get their opinions on Macdonald’s apology.