In the Spring of 2017, an image of a group of Wisconsin High School students making a collective Nazi salute went viral prompting reactions from all over the world. The Baraboo superintendent said the students would not be formally punished for the actions related to the photo due to their first amendment rights, and because the image was not taken on school grounds and that the photographer was an independent contractor not affiliated with the school.
In response to the social media backlash, which included one tweet from the Auschwitz Memorial Twitter account, calling the incident as “It is so hard to find words,” the school has initiated a series of talks and responses embracing diversity and is using the incident to foster a teaching moment for the school.
As reported in the online news website Slate, “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.”
In a tweet on December 5th, the school informed the public about its first #Serve2Unite talk in order to “speak on finding forgiveness after hate.”
The tweet stated: “The Baraboo School District is excited to announce, in collaboration with community leaders, the first event in the Baraboo Acts series, Baraboo Acts: Serve2Unite. #TheGiftofOurWounds authors Pardeep Singh Kaleka & Arno Michaelis will speak on finding forgiveness after hate.”
The Cap Times in Madison, WI described several events being put on by the school, including a follow-up event on the 18th with a full-day of peace-embracing assemblies with Masood Akhtar, founder of the anti-hate group ‘We Are Many” after Kaleka and Michaelis speak on the 17th.
Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, a Madison civil rights attorney told the Cap Times that the school is making positive steps in the wake of the disturbing image. “Overall I think they’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
The Cap Times listed the initiatives the Baraboo School will be implementing in addition to the Serve2Unite speaking engagements to continue fostering diversity understanding. These initiatives are as follows:
- Continuing mental health support for students and staff traumatized by the global media attention.
- Inviting speaker on the Holocaust annually to the middle school as part of the curriculum.
- Posting Holocaust and World War II resources on the district’s website.
- Reviewing the district’s social media practices.
- Stepping up instruction on social justice issues.
- A district-wide equity audit and action plan performed by a consultant.
The school also issued a public statement about initiatives on their website with the page title “Baraboo Acts.”
Baraboo community leaders are collaboratively planning a series of programs to discuss ways for our community to heal, learn and grow together with a message of unity, tolerance, love and learning.
The first program, Baraboo Gathers, was held on Nov. 19, 2018, at Baraboo High School.
The second program, Baraboo Talks, was held on Nov. 29, 2018, at Baraboo City Hall. The goal of Baraboo Talks was to identify concrete areas for action and improvement in our community and prioritize these ideas in the development of a Community Action Plan (CAP). Our CAP will consist of short-range and long-range plans for our community to address such topics as safety, equity, inclusivity, deeper learning and restorative justice. Based on the priorities identified in Baraboo Talks, the Baraboo School District and community will schedule a series of programs called Baraboo Acts.
Hate has no home in Baraboo. We as a community understand the moral responsibility we have to be relentless in our work to create a hate-free environment where all people, regardless of race, color, religion, abilities, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, immigration status or ancestry, are respected and celebrated.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling