Seattle high school teacher suspended for controversial Halloween costume

SEATTLE — Ingraham High School teacher Peter Colino is on paid leave after wearing a Michael Jordan costume that included a black rubber face mask and black gloves.

Colino told KIRO 7 he's been doing the Michael Jordan stunt for 18 years to get his students excited about being in his math class. Colino said he told students Michael Jordan was coming to visit, then on Halloween he walked in wearing the Michael Jordan mask and costume. He showed the class a Michael Jordan highlight video.

"He is, to me, the greatest, I'm going to say, athlete of all time and my whole deal is to honor Michael Jordan," said Colino on Friday. Colino said talking about basketball in class was a way to connect with students.

Dillon Mahone was in Colino's math class on Monday, "I laughed. It was funny. I didn't mind it, seemed cool to me." A student put a video on Snapchat and it was sent throughout the school. A parent complained to the principal, the principal emailed Colino.

"I was completely uncomfortable with myself, thinking, ‘What did I do and what can I do to make amends?’" said Colino.

He didn't wear the mask for the rest of the day. On Tuesday, he apologized to each class and talked to his students about race.

On Thursday afternoon, Colino found out he was being put on paid administrative leave.

"The difficult part for me is I've always done well with trying to bring people together. I teach kids of all backgrounds and I've been respected and liked as a teacher," said Colino. He said his classroom is a gathering place at lunch for students of all backgrounds.

"I'm not a perfect teacher. I've always wanted to be a better teacher. But please don't equate me with blackface or racism. I understand it was perceived what I did was wrong, and I'm so sorry for that."

The principal sent a letter to parents:

"The teacher has been placed on administrative leave while further investigation is conducted. His behavior is in opposition to Ingraham's values of racial diversity and inclusivity and have impacted our students negatively."

However, Colino's students KIRO 7 spoke with said they truly believe that although what Colino did was a bit misguided, he did not mean any offense.

"He's always talking to us about how racism is not good for our generation, not good for anyone," said student Leyla Elazmaoui.

"I do think it is important to recognize the intent was not there to hurt or to offend, but the impact was there," said student Quinn Smart.

Colino met with the Black Student Union on Thursday and apologized.

"We are all able to learn from this and now people know this kind of thing shouldn't happen. I'm hoping it won't happen again in the future," said Eden Gevremariam, vice president of Ingraham's Black Student Union.

Late Thursday SPS released a statement:

"Seattle Public Schools does not tolerate staff behavior that reinforces racial bias or stereotypes. We take this commitment very seriously. While we can't discuss personnel matters, we are investigating and taking appropriate action."

Colino said he has worked hard at Ingraham to bring students together.

"In retrospect I should have been more aware," said Colino, "Thinking about it in these times of Black Lives Matter."

Colino was the senior class adviser in 2013 and worked to reduce the cost of the senior card, which covered the senior breakfast, prom, and graduation party.

He lowered the price from $150-$180 to only $60 per student ($30 for students on the reduced lunch program) so more students could participate. He worked out a deal with Men's Warehouse to provide free tuxes to students who couldn't afford one.

He told KIRO-7 he's had trouble sleeping since the incident on Monday. Colino said he is finding comfort in the many messages of support he’s received from former students.

"What I don't want is I don't want people who have criticized my costume to be vilified. I want them to be applauded because they're standing up for their beliefs. They're speaking their truth," said Colino. "The mask has been retired because I do not want anybody else to feel hurt or infringed upon."

Colino is eager for the district to finish investigating so he can get back in the classroom with his students.

Top stories on KIRO7.com

Get news updates and push alerts anytime with the KIRO 7 News App.