The Slatest

Wisconsin School District Won’t Punish Students in Viral Nazi Salute Photo

The Baraboo High School students posting for a picture before their prom last spring.
The Baraboo High School students posting for a picture before their prom last spring.
Peter Gust of Wheel Memories

Remember that shocking photo that showed a group of Wisconsin teens doing what looked quite unambiguously like a Nazi salute? The school district has now said the students from the Baraboo High School class of 2019 won’t be facing any repercussions for their actions that took place before the junior prom. In a letter to parents, the superintendent of the Baraboo School District, Lori Mueller, said that officials couldn’t “punish the students for their actions” because of their First Amendment rights. “As previously stated, we cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” Ms. Mueller wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Baraboo News Republic.

The photo was taken in May by a parent who was not hired by the school district to take photos. The parent, Peter Gust, had the image on his website but he took it down after it became viral when it was posted online by an anonymous Twitter account. Those in the photo include both current and past students at the high school. But despite a 10-day investigation there are still lots of things school authorities don’t know. “Despite our efforts, we are still unclear about some key details,” the superintendent wrote on Wednesday.

Gust, who took the photo, and several students have insisted the gesture was never intended to be a Nazi salute. But at least some students seem to have recognized immediately what was going on. “After like a split second of them having their hand up, I was like, ‘Oh, so, this is what’s going on,’” Jason Ramos, a Baraboo High School junior, said.Ramos, who is now a senior, said he was shocked about the moment that came “out of nowhere.” And the photo got so much attention that even the Auschwitz Memorial’s official Twitter account commented on it, noting “it is so hard to find words.”

Many were shocked by the news that the students won’t face any consequences for their actions. Journalist Jules Suzdaltsev, who was one of those responsible for helping the photo go viral and talked to several Baraboo students about the image, pointed out that the school district seems to have an interesting idea of what is and isn’t protected by the First Amendment. In a tweet, Suzdaltsev pointed out that the Wisconsin State Assembly voted last year to automatically suspend students who protest against hate speech. “So apparently in Wisconsin if you DO a Nazi salute at a school event, nothing will happen to you,” Suzdaltsev wrote, “but if you PROTEST against Nazis at a school event, you will be automatically expelled.”