School district says free speech protects reported Nazi salute in prom photo

Update 5:45 p.m. EST Nov. 25: A Wisconsin school district said it has completed an investigation into a Wisconsin high school after an apparent Nazi salute pose in a prom photo.

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“As previously stated, we cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” Baraboo Superintendent Lori Mueller said in a letter sent out to parents Wednesday. “Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”

The letter was obtained by The Baraboo News Republic.

Original report:

A Wisconsin high school is being criticized for what appears to be a Nazi salute some students struck in a prom photo.

CBS News reported that dozens of male students in Baraboo High School's class of 2019 are pictured raising their right arms upward.

According to a statement from Baraboo Superintendent Dr. Lori Mueller, the image was taken in the spring before prom. The Baraboo News Republic reported that the image, in which not all students do not have their hands raised, resurfaced and spread across Twitter with the hashtag #BarabooProud. The publication reported that the hashtag is used by the Baraboo School District to promote its activities.

CBS News reported the image first resurfaced in a since-deleted tweet Sunday afternoon.

"In the photo, Baraboo students appear to make an extremely inappropriate gesture. It is a gesture widely recognized for its association with intolerance, violence and hate," Mueller said in a statement Monday to parents and guardians. "We are extremely troubled by the image. The school district and local authorities continue to investigate, speaking with the students and families involved to determine how and why this photo was taken."

Pete Guest, of WheelMemories, took the photo and told WISN that he went to the prom as a parent, and had his camera with him because he works as a photographer. He said he was taking photos of his son and his date.

"There was no Nazi salute," Gust told WISN. "The last picture we had done -- I think I shot almost 400 pictures that day -- after I had done a bunch of the individuals with their dates and the parents, some of the mothers wanted pictures of their sons and their daughters with them and didn't have the kind of equipment that I have so I was taking pictures for them that I, eventually, then gave to them as gifts."

Guest said they wanted group pictures, and the one circulating shows the male students waving goodbye to their parents.

“Among the last picture that we did, I said, ‘OK boys, you’re going to say goodbye to your parents, so wave.’ I put my hands up. I said, ‘Now you’re looking towards me. Wave, say goodbye, and they go, ‘Well, what do you mean by that?’ I said, ‘Well, stick your hand up in a high five and wave.’ And that was it. I took one or two pictures. I posted one with all the boys waving goodbye.”

Gust said the photo was taken out of context.

When asked about one student who appears to be making a white power signal with his hands, Gust said the boy was vaping. Gust said he asked him to turn it off.

Baraboo senior Jordan Blue, who refused to participate in the gesture, spoke to CBS News, saying, "As soon as I heard the photographer say, 'Raise your hand,' I knew what was going to happen.

“He did not say raise your hand in a Nazi symbol way,  and I'm pretty sure my classmates just interpreted as raise your hand, let's do this as a joke,” Blue said, adding that he thinks some who participated knew what the gesture meant, but said he thinks the students are regretful about what happened.

"Let us be very clear: hate has no home in the Baraboo School District," Mueller said at the end of her statement. "Our schools are spaces where all people -- regardless of their race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ancestry -- are respected and celebrated. The safety of our students and schools is our most important priority.

“Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that our schools remain positive and safe environments for all students, staff and community. We will provide more information on this incident as it becomes available.”

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