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Students Back Teacher In Connection With Trump Piñata Flap

By Lauren DiSpirito

JOHNSTOWN, Colo. (CBS4) - School district officials in Weld County canceled classes at Roosevelt High School on Monday after police say threats were made toward the school and students on social media.

The district canceled after-school activities at the high school as well, according to Martin Foster, superintendent of the Weld RE-5J School District.

Trump Pinata 2 (from Lesley Hollywood FB)
(credit: Lesley Hollywood)

The threats came days after a Spanish teacher was allegedly suspended for allowing students to strike a piñata with a picture of President Donald Trump on it during a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the school on Friday.

Trump Pinata 3 (from Lesley Hollywood FB)
(credit: Lesley Hollywood)

In a news conference on Monday, Johnstown Police Chief Brian Phillips said the incident with the piñata and the threats were linked. He said the messages were spread "third and fourth-hand" on social media and threatened violence toward students who might be involved in a protest at the school. Students had planned to protest the district's decision to suspend the teacher.

Trump Pinata 4 (from Lesley Hollywood FB)
(credit: Lesley Hollywood)

"There is a connection on all of this," Phillips said. "The threats themselves or the statements and rumors being spread on social media were more generic and they weren't directed at either one side or the other."

Phillips declined to elaborate on the nature of the threats. Needing more time Monday morning to assess the credibility of the threats, Foster says the district decided to close Roosevelt High School for the day.

Trump Pinata 5 (from Lesley Hollywood FB)
(credit: Lesley Hollywood)

Students who gathered at the school, despite the closure, came to the teacher's defense. Anesia Martinez said district should not have suspended the teacher.

"I don't think he should be treated this way," Martinez said. "Especially in a situation that's making a bigger deal than what it is."

Another student, Ashley Jackson, said a parent reacted to a video shared on social media of students striking the piñata without knowing the full details of what happened. The piñata also contained a photograph of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

"I don't believe a man should lose a career over the fact that a parent got mad about it," Jackson said.

Other students said they believe their classmate brought the piñata to school not out of malice, rather, in response to an assignment on "culture clash." District officials do not know who placed the pictures on the piñata.

The teacher is on paid administrative leave as the district conducts an investigation. The teacher was not following curriculum, according to Foster.

"It's hard for me to tie any educational value to what has occurred here with anything the teacher was doing that day," Foster said.

Foster called the action "disrespectful." Another student said the piñata was inappropriate.

After assessing the threats, Phillips said investigators have determined it is safe for students to return to school on Tuesday. He indicated he believes the threats were rumors.

Lauren DiSpirito reports for CBS4 News at 10 p.m. She covers breaking news and feature stories along Colorado's Front Range. Follow her on Twitter @CBS4Lauren. Share your story ideas with her here.

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