Try 3 months for $3
Laurie Zimmerman (copy)

Congregation Shaarei Shamayim Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Madison talks about a controversial photo involving students Nov. 19 during the Baraboo Gathers event at Baraboo High School.

The Baraboo School District has outlined more than a dozen steps it will take to address backlash to an apparent Nazi salute photo, including annual trips to the Holocaust Museum in Illinois.

In a Tuesday letter to parents from the Baraboo School Board and District Administrator Lori Mueller, the district named 13 “educational steps” it will take to respond to a viral photo of dozens of high school boys giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute.

The photo of dozens of boys in the class of 2019 taken last spring before prom recently surfaced online, sparking an investigation, condemnation of the students and community meetings to address the picture.

Mueller said free-speech rights prevented the district from disciplining those involved. The photographer, a parent of one of those pictured, said the students were simply waving goodbye to their parents before prom.

Steps outlined Tuesday include yearly field trips to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, adding Holocaust speakers to middle school curriculum, a Day of Peace assembly on Dec. 18 and developing teachers’ social justice instruction skills.

Developing a short- and long-term “community action plan,” hiring a consultant to conduct a district equity audit, and continuing to offer mental health services for students and staff affected by media attention the photo generated are among other next steps identified.

The Dec. 18 event, organized in collaboration with nonprofit organization We Are Many United Against Hate and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, will be open only to Baraboo High School students and staff, according to district communications specialist Holly Henderson. Students will hear from speakers and rotate around educational panels on various topics yet to be decided.

Masood Akhtar of Middleton, president and founder of United Against Hate, said he expects Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Kaleka of Serve 2 Unite to give the main presentation. The two travel nationally and internationally to tell their story: Michaelis is a former white supremacist, and Kaleka is the son of one of the victims killed in a 2012 shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple.

“So this is a very powerful personal story, where these two people were on a different path and all of a sudden they got together and started promoting peace,” Akhtar said, noting that he thinks the personal nature and Wisconsin roots of the story help students connect with the message.

Parents and other community members will have a chance to hear Michaelis and Kaleka at Baraboo Acts on Dec. 17, when the community action plan also will be presented.

Akhtar said he contacted the Baraboo School District soon after the photo went viral. Since then, he’s met with Mueller and Baraboo High School Principal Glenn Bildsten twice to discuss goals and plans.

“When we talked about it, they got very excited about it, and they said, ‘Look, our intent is really to — to go after hate and build an inclusive community and we are going to work with you as a part of this,’” Akhtar said.

He said he’s “very impressed” with how the district is putting together a strategic plan and engaging the community.

“These things do happen,” he said of the photo. “They have happened in the past and they will continue to happen. What we’re trying to do is avoid those from happening by putting the right structure in place at these schools and working together so that … (students) know what is expected and they all have to be respectful to everybody.”

His organization will continue to work with the district, Akhtar said, adding that the events are just the first step.

The district also added a page to its website where it will post information about hate, racism and invitations to events.

Additionally, the district’s school board approved an anti-hate resolution last month.

Tuesday’s letter said all people — no matter their race, sexual orientation or abilities, among other categories — should be respected.

“As previously stated, hate has no home in Baraboo. We understand the moral responsibility we have to be relentless in our work to create a hate-free environment,” the letter said. “We will come together and, in a meaningful way, consider the travesties of the past that were fueled by hatred and embrace a future of the celebration of diversity fueled by love and acceptance.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

We welcome reader interaction. What are your questions about this article? Do you have an idea to share? Please stick to the topic and maintain a respectful attitude toward other participants. (You can help: Use the 'Report' link to let us know of off-topic or offensive posts.)