But the child’s ensemble featured two eye-catching details: a fake toothbrush mustache and a red armband decorated with a hand-drawn black swastika.
Pictures of the student wearing the Nazi costume and sporting Adolf Hitler’s distinctive facial hair at Creekside Elementary School, about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City, were shared on social media last week, sparking intense backlash from critics who decried the boy’s attire as “intolerably offensive.” Now, the school’s principal and a teacher have been placed on paid administrative leave, and the school district has launched an investigation into “every aspect of the situation,” according to a statement emailed to The Washington Post late Sunday.
“The Davis School District apologizes for what took place Thursday at Creekside Elementary,” the statement said. “It does not tolerate speech, images or conduct that portray or promote hate in any form.”
Officials with the district, who did not name the principal or the teacher, noted the matter is being taken “very seriously.”
A photo showing the boy’s costume was first posted to Facebook by a mother of another child who attends the elementary school, according to Deseret News. In a caption, the mother wrote that the boy had also raised the Nazi salute “in the face of the few minority children who attend the school,” Deseret News reported. Creekside Elementary School in Kaysville, Utah, serves more than 750 students from preschool to sixth grade.
“This is something that offended a number of people, frightened people, traumatized people to see it,” Jay Jacobson, who sits on the United Jewish Federation of Utah’s board of trustees, told KTVX.
One mother told KSTU that parents at the Halloween parade were confused and surprised the boy had been permitted to dress as a Nazi. The mother added the boy had targeted her son and other children of color on the playground at recess by “throwing the ‘Hail Hitler’ sign up.”
“The fact that it was at a school, he had to have been seen by his teacher, by multiple people,” said the mother, who was not identified.
She later called the school to complain and was informed the boy had been taken out of the parade and told to change and his parents had been contacted, KSTU reported. But the mother said the school’s explanation for the incident didn’t sit well with her.
“I was told they thought he was Charlie Chaplin,” she told the news station, “and I’m like, he has a whole swastika on his arm.”
In a statement shared to Facebook on Saturday, the United Jewish Federation of Utah wrote it was “appalled” by the boy’s attire, stressing that school districts and administrators “have an obligation to provide guidance to students and parents about what would be an unacceptable costume for such a school parade.”
“Almost all Jews and Americans regard Hitler and Nazi symbols as signifiers of the worst hatred, racism, and crimes against humanity that the world has known,” the statement said. “Dressing a child as Hitler is intolerably offensive and should never be suggested, permitted, or condoned.”
Other social media users were equally outraged. One person called out any adults who saw the boy in costume and let him continue to wear it, writing, “shame on you!” Another took issue with the school district’s decision to suspend the principal and teacher with pay, tweeting, “It should be ‘Fired on the spot and banned from working in schools again.’”
Incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States went up 57 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League. The dramatic rise — the second-highest number reported since the ADL started tracking such data in 1979 — is largely attributed to a “significant increase” in cases in schools or on college campuses, the report said.
The Utah boy’s costume isn’t the first time Nazi imagery has recently shown up at an elementary school in the United States. In May, a Tennessee school announced that it would stop having a student portray Hitler and perform the Nazi salute as part of a fifth-grade class project on World War II, HuffPost reported. The change came after a student complained about the gesture, which some of her peers started doing outside of class, according to BuzzFeed News. More recently, police in Battle Creek, Mich., launched an investigation after a Nazi flag was spotted in September outside Riverside Elementary School, CNN reported.
The Creekside Elementary School mother who spoke to KSTU said she found the boy’s clothing and alleged targeting of minority students, including her son, “completely inappropriate.”
“Hitler is hurtful,” the mother said. “It’s hurtful to people. It’s a horrible part of the world’s past, so it shouldn’t be glorified at all.”