Officials keep mum on ongoing prom photo investigation

November 15, 2018

Baraboo High School students found themselves under national scrutiny this week after a photo taken in May showing Class of 2019 boys appearing to give a Nazi salute resurfaced and went viral on social media over the weekend. District officials and Baraboo police are investigating.

School administrators and the city’s police chief are keeping quiet about the investigation into the pre-prom photo taken in May showing boys in the class of 2019 with their arms angled high in what appears to be a Nazi salute.

Baraboo School District Administrator Lori Mueller sent a letter to parents Wednesday reiterating that she couldn’t yet release information on the investigation, but that “we will keep you updated as we are able to share more.”

The district is planning to host a public program along with community and faith leaders, according to the letter. That event will be at 6 p.m. Monday at Baraboo High School.

In addition, the city is hosting a community event Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Mueller said she couldn’t divulge what role the Baraboo Police Department is taking in investigating the photo. The department released a statement Monday on Twitter saying officers are assisting the district, but Police Chief Mark Schauf declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.

Taken by local photographer Peter Gust on the Sauk County Courthouse steps, the photo includes roughly 50 students, not all of whom are holding their arms outstretched. It had been posted on Gust’s public website since May, but recently went viral after the photo was shared by the @GoBaraboo Twitter account along with the caption, “We even got the black kid to throw it up #BarabooProud.”

Mueller tweeted Monday, “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” the issue.

When asked what she meant by legal actions, Mueller said, “I’m not referring to anything specific. It’s just the comment that, you know, the school district is going to do due diligence on -- on understanding what we are dealing with, and if there’s any action that we can take, as I said in my message, then -- then that’s what we’ll pursue.”

Mueller said she doesn’t know who posted the photo to the @GoBaraboo account. The answer to that question is part of the investigation, she said.

She emphasized Gust has no affiliation with the school district and was not hired by the school to take photos. Gust, who used to teach history in another school district and served as a Baraboo High School football coach, said he asked the boys to “raise your hands and say goodbye” to the camera before heading off to their junior prom.

In the letter to parents, Mueller said the image has “rightly been described as hateful, frightening and disappointing,” regardless of its circumstances or the intentions of the people involved.

Community members who attended the school board meeting Monday night recommended educating Baraboo students thoroughly on the Holocaust and World War II.

Rick Looze of Baraboo told the board to view this incident as dangerous. While he is “a big First Amendment champion” and supports the right of people to express themselves creatively, he said, “This isn’t creative. This is despicable.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see how you’re going to proceed from here, because we want this to be a lesson to the people who are going to live through this, but we also want to make a firm statement that this is not our community and this is not what we stand for,” he said.

Karen DeSanto, executive director of the Baraboo Boys and Girls Club, said at the meeting that the students need adult mentors to support and guide them.

In a phone interview, she said the photo demonstrated behavior that was not typical of the Baraboo students who participate in her organization. The teen club, which is open after every school day, has about 68 members, she said.

“We’re looking at it from an educational message,” she said. “We’re absolutely using this as an additional teaching tool of what could happen based on our actions, coupling that with support.”

School board member Doug Mering wrote in an email that he’s planning to attend the community meeting tonight to listen to concerns and gather input.

BHS Principal Glenn Bildsten has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

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