STAUNTON, Va. (News Leader) - People are taking to social media to react to costumes worn by two employees of Robert E. Lee High School for Halloween.
Principal Mark Rowicki dressed as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, complete with a shock of trademark hair and a "Make American Great Again" hat. School secretary Stephanie Corbett dressed as Hillary Clinton, but rather than looking like a candidate on the campaign trail she was wearing an orange jumpsuit and a "Department of Justice" name tag that reads "Hillary R. Clinton."
Together, they appeared on a photograph that was posted to the school website as part of a gallery that mostly includes students in costume. In an uncropped version of the photo that appears on social media, the Clinton character is wearing a chain around her waist. The photo disappeared from the site about 1 p.m. Wednesday. It was not clear who took the photo.
A Lee High graduate who is a mom of two girls, Emberly Lynn Martin, was upset about the choice of costumes. She posted the photo on her Facebook page.
"You are professionals, who work with children. Some more impressionable then others. The fact that any school official would think its okay to dress like this leaves me appalled and floored," Martin said in her post. "What message are you sending to any of them when their high school principal dresses up like a man who wants to deport them, says things like 'she's a nasty woman,' or 'grab em by the p----?'"
Fellow Lee High grad Kenna Margaret Leona Riddle commented saying, "I aspire to be a teacher and I'm appalled by the fact they decided this would be their costumes. If it were at a party or something like that then it would be different."
Principal Rowicki refused to listen to or answer questions from The News Leader reporter about the image.
When he heard about the picture on the school's website, school board member Robert Boyle initially declined to comment, but when asked a follow-up question said, "I don't have the context, but I'm sure it's an educational type thing about history."
Boyle went on to say, "I'm sure it was in good taste. ... I'm sure it's just more comical than anything else."
Laura Kleiner said that it's a tradition for students and staff to dress in costume on Halloween, but that "better judgment could have been used."
"I don't think the costumes were meant as a political statement, staff don't make political statements," Kleiner said. "Wearing it to school wasn't the best idea."
Calls for comment to school board members Bill Lobb, Amy Darby and Jody Grogan were not returned on Wednesday.
Superintendent Linda Reviea would not comment on whether the costumes donned by Rowicki or Corbett would lead to any disciplinary action, saying it was a personnel issue.
"[There were] pictures that people might have a concern about," Reviea said. "I contacted the school and Dr. Rowicki and the pictures have been taken down."
Reviea said that while the school division did not receive any direct complaints, they did receive a few unidentified messages from people concerned about Corbett's costume.
School board Chairman Ron Ramsey agreed that it was the depiction of Clinton that was inappropriate.
"While I certainly understand choosing a figure in pop culture, whether it be a TV character or in this case a political candidate ... the way Hillary is described, that seems in poor judgment and a bad decision," Ramsey said. "I think they took it too far."
While some commenters believe the costumes worn by Rowicki and Corbett were "blown out of proportion," others thought that wearing them in a school setting was inappropriate and an abuse of power.
"I'm sorry to contradict you, Ms Kleiner, but this is a political statement and about as inappropriate as you can get for school staff," said Staunton native Pamela Patrick. "A public apology to all the citizens of Staunton is the least of what is due."
Former Lee High grad Cathy Sterrett said, "I was concerned when I saw it last night. I felt it was not in good judgment to portray Hillary Clinton in the prison outfit. Donald Trump was portrayed appropriately, but Hillary should have been given equal billing or none at all. I realize these are high school students, however, there has been no charges on Clinton and this went a little too far."
Staunton resident, Makeba Robinson said, "I don't even know where to start with this. How about with it being completely unprofessional, distasteful and inappropriate for school. I don't think it's funny, but even those who do must see that it is completely inappropriate for school. So the fact that the picture has been removed from the school's official website tells us that someone within the schools didn't find it appropriate, but where is the disconnect?"
Rowicki is a 22-year Air Force veteran who earned a doctorate in curriculum administration from Auburn University before becoming principal of Ware Elementary School in 2002. He previously taught middle school in Montgomery, Ala. In 2006 he became assistant principal at Robert E. Lee High School and was promoted to principal in 2009.
Both Trump and Clinton have been embroiled in a heated race to the finish line. While Clinton has had to deal with continuing questions about her email server, Trump has been criticized for comments made about how his power allows him to sexually assault women and joking comments about how young girls could grow up to date him.