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A Kentucky high school superintendent is issuing an apology after photos were posted on social media, seemingly showing students giving a lap dance to staff, among other "inappropriate behaviors."
Sondra Combs, the Superintendent of Hazard Independent School District, confirmed in a statement that "appropriate disciplinary action has been taken" following an investigation of the Homecoming events at Hazard High School.
"Our district would like to apologize for the activity that has been portrayed in the media and we regret how this has unfolded," Combs said, in part. "This is not the type of event that typically occurs here at Hazard High School, and we sincerely regret any embarrassment this has caused our school community."
Gov. Andy Beshear also responded to the incident calling it "totally unacceptable" as he urged the school district to "take appropriate action and ensure that this will never happen again."
"There's another thing they need to do, they need to be talking to these students [so] that this isn't something that's normalized in their mind that they think is okay in school," he said during a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday.
"We just want to make sure that we're raising our kids right about what is and is not acceptable especially in the world we live in," he continued. "Our public schools are better than this."
The photos in question were first shared on Hazard High School's Athletics Facebook page, according to USA Today and NBC affiliate WLEX. Though they have since been deleted from the page, WLEX and Twitter users were able to obtain them.
The images were taken during a "Man Pageant" and "Costume Day" on Tuesday at Hazard High as part of their homecoming week festivities, USA Today reported, citing the school's since-removed Facebook post.
Another image showed a male student squatting in front of a seated staffer and touching his stomach, while one picture captured a student bending over in front of who appeared to be Hazard High School Principal Donald "Happy" Mobelini, who is also mayor of the Perry County city.
Other photos that were taken down reportedly saw female students dressed up in "Hooters" outfits and students and staff appearing to spank each other with a paddle.
After the images were posted, some parents voiced their complaints on social media and with the local media.
"As a mother myself, I wouldn't want my son involved in such actions," one woman told WLEX, while another said she found the "pageant" images "demeaning in many ways."
Another mom, identified as Jenna Smith, told WLEX that adults should've taken action once they realized kids were taking off their clothes.
"I think that they should have at that point said, 'Hey, I know this is a joke. But let's stop. This is inappropriate,' " she told the outlet.
— KY Dept of Education (@KyDeptofEd) October 27, 2021
Other parents defended Mobelini — who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment — and the students, arguing that they were just having fun during Homecoming week.
"This situation at Hazard High School has been taken so far out of context, it is ridiculous," wrote one father, Kevin Day, on Facebook. "[Mobelini] has done so much for our school and for the kids and community. He makes sure no kids [are] ever left out... Hazard is a great school and we are glad that our kids went/go there!"
Mom Hollie Layne agreed with Day, telling WLEX, "There are only photos being shown on the internet, no videos. The photos don't show the teachers pushing the children off of them. If everybody is perfect then I would say, 'Yeah, maybe we do need to rethink something.' But until somebody can prove that something is going on here, other than just Homecoming week and teenagers being teenagers, then I will support my kids."
In the superintendent's statement, Combs said she became aware of the concerns raised by the photos depicting "inappropriate student-led activities" later that evening.
"The first thing I did on October 27th, was initiate an investigation into the incident," she stated. "The activities were part of Homecoming festivities and were driven by the students. We strive to foster creativity in our students, but unfortunately, this time it was carried too far."
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"Spirit Week at Hazard High School has a long and celebrated tradition. Homecoming activities were planned as a celebration for students, staff, and the school community," Combs continued. "All were intended to be fun and good-natured however, the activities did not play out as intended."
The Superintendent said despite Homecoming being an annual tradition, there have never been any issues in the school. However, after what recently transpired, Combs announced she would be reviewing policy and procedures "to make certain that it does not happen again."
In addition to taking disciplinary action — which Combs said she could not disclose any further because it was a "personnel matter" — she said they were also developing a student activity committee "to review all student led activities."
"[This] should prevent any such skits from being performed in the future," she explained. "While we value our student's creativity, we also must ensure that it is focused in an appropriate direction and will be more vigilant toward that goal in the future."
The superintendent also said she would be providing training on school policies and procedures, including social media use and school uniforms, with all district staff.
"At the end of the day, the light-hearted activity simply got out of hand, and for that, we apologize. In the future, we will strive to keep the lighthearted, fun nature of school activities without the inappropriate behavior," Combs wrote. "We will continue to seek to involve our students and foster their creativity, but with more direction. ... We only ask that [you] not judge a district with a century-long tradition of striving for excellence on a single incident where fun trumped judgment."
In their own statement, the Kentucky Department of Education said they were "aware" of the incident and "in contact with the superintendent."
"Under state law, superintendents have a duty to report any instances of educator misconduct to the Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB)," their statement reads. "If an investigation finds a certified educator likely violated the Kentucky Educator Code of Ethics, they are required to report this to EPSB. If any citizen of Commonwealth feels that that Kentucky's educator Code of Ethics was violated by a certified educator, they can also file a written complaint with the EPSB by email to email@example.com."