Columbia County students weigh in on controversial photo

November 14, 2018

A controversial photo, showing Baraboo High School students appearing to give a Nazi salute, was the subject of table talk and guided dialogue Tuesday among students of various Columbia County high schools.

Future Leaders Active in Government is a decade-old University of Wisconsin-Extension Columbia County program, designed to give selected high school juniors and seniors a close-up view of government.

At Tuesday’s session, which included lunch with participating students and their county supervisors, the viral photo was on the minds of students who shared a table with Supervisor Barry Pufahl of Pardeeville.

Poynette High School student Chad Tiffany said he was puzzled as to why about 50 Baraboo High School boys, all purportedly members of the class of 2019, posed for the picture last spring, in front of the Sauk County Courthouse, many of them giving what appeared to be a stiff-arm salute associated with Nazis.

“The biggest issue is, why would somebody do this?” he said.

“They were clowning around,” Pufahl said.

That may be, said Pardeeville High School student Estella Jisa. “But still, there is a lot of hate out there,” she said.

Pufahl expressed agreement.

“And Facebook and sites like that don’t help,” he said. “You can put anything up there on social media, and people will believe it.”

Opinion Line — a traditional Future Leaders Active in Government activity, in which students physically place themselves on a line beside others whose position on an issue is the same as theirs — took another approach to the issue.

The question before the students was whether newspapers, such as the Portage Daily Register, should have republished the photo.

Yes, said Lodi High School student Taylor Hatley.

“The First Amendment gives the press the right to print anything they want,” Hatley said. “That’s freedom of the press.”

But Poynette High School student Gwen Golueke said freedom of the press is, or should be, somewhat limited when the subjects of a photo or story are minors. Also, she said, it might have been better if the newspaper coverage had not specified the high school associated with the students, because doing so taints the reputation of the whole school.

Columbus High School student Quinn Altman said students need to realize that what goes on the internet is not private — and once something is posted online, it stays posted forever.

“It’s not as though they posed for that picture in private,” he said.

Portage High School student Isaiah Hoege said he’s neutral on the issue. While the publication of the photo might have been legitimate reporting of news, he said, “It could seem like this is a misunderstanding.”

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