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UPDATE: Nazi salutes in group photo of boys from Baraboo High School spring prom spark outrage online

November 12, 2018 GMT

A photo showing most of the boys from the Baraboo High School Class of 2019 spring prom giving a stiff-armed Nazi salute is generating outrage online and has prompted an investigation by the district and the police.

The photo taken on the Sauk County Courthouse steps includes about 50 students, though not all are holding their arms outstretched. The photo has resurfaced and gone viral, sparking questions on social media about the school’s culture and bringing international attention to the 3,000-student school district.

The photo quickly spread on Twitter Sunday night and Monday morning with the hashtag #barabooproud, which often is used by the Baraboo School District to promote its activities and athletics programs. The photo also was shared on Facebook.

Baraboo School District Administrator Lori Mueller did not return calls and emails for comment Monday, instead releasing a statement on social media that said school officials are investigating.

“The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo. The District will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address,” Mueller tweeted.

Baraboo High School Principal Glenn Bildsten also did not return a call and email. School board president Kevin Vodak declined an interview request, referring reporters to the district’s statement instead.

Baraboo High School was placed in a “soft hold” Monday due to the photo, according to Administrative Assistant Angie Cowling. She said a soft hold prevents students from leaving school premises — such as for off-campus lunch — unless they have permission from a parent and approval through the office.

The Baraboo Police Department said officers are assisting with the school district’s investigation into a “controversial photo.”

Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf declined to comment on his department’s involvement in the matter and said it is an ongoing investigation.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, whose district includes Baraboo, said President Donald Trump’s rhetoric has set a bad example for these students in his failure to condemn other recent acts of racism.

“There is no place for hatred, intolerance and racism in our society,” Erphenbach said. “Unfortunately, based on what these students see coming from the White House, some of them may believe what they have done is acceptable. It is absolutely not. Leaders, from the President on down, need to condemn racism in all its forms and work toward a world where we learn from the mistakes of history.”

Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers also weighed in on the incident, saying the actions in the photo “have no place in Wisconsin.”

“As elected officials, we have a responsibility to lead by example for a generation growing up in a climate where they see this behavior condoned,” Evers said. “I will be in contact with Barbaoo officials, but we must all be clear: intolerance and bigotry must never be tolerated, in our schools or anywhere else.”

And in Poland, at the Auschwitz Memorial Museum tweeted: “This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred.”

Baraboo’s young professionals group is organizing a rally set for 4 p.m. outside the Sauk County Courthouse they hope will counteract a negative public perception of the community following the controversy.

“Our community is such a wonderful place, so let’s stomp out the negative attention that is currently being brought to it and shadow it with the love that I know this community has,” co-organizer Sherri Schaaf wrote in a message to prospective participants.

The school district said it had sent a letter to school district parents about the matter indicating the photo was not taken during a school-sponsored event and called the students’ actions “extremely inappropriate gestures.”

The school board has a meeting scheduled for Monday evening, though it’s unclear if the topic will be addressed by board members. State law requires 24-hour notice of an agenda and the topic ignited after that window passed.

This isn’t the first time Baraboo High School students have been implicated in the use of racially controversial symbols.

In 2012, a group of students drove their trucks around the community displaying Confederate battle flags to honor a friend who was killed in a car crash.

School officials said at the time that they wanted to respect the wishes of students who mourned their friend’s death, but also explain how the flag might upset other students and the community. After speaking with former Baraboo High School Principal Bill Loss, the students voluntarily took the flags down.

More recently, some residents of Baraboo and the surrounding Sauk County area received mailers from white nationalists.

A week before the Nov. 6 midterm election, a flyer with the header “WHITE LIVES MATTER,” was illegally distributed in mailboxes in Baraboo, Reedsburg and Spring Green. Fliers also were placed on vehicles in Wisconsin Dells.

The single-page flyer listed links to several websites promoting nationalist and anti-Semitic views. The Baraboo postmaster said at the time the office was aware of the flyers and carriers were removing them.