After Photo of Students in Apparent Nazi Salute Goes Viral, District Pledges Investigation
A posed prom photo of dozens of high school boys raising their arms in what appears to be a Nazi salute spread quickly online Monday, sparking outrage from educators and even provoking a response from the Auschwitz Memorial.
The image of white students from Baraboo High School in Baraboo, Wisconsin, was first shared by an account called GoBaraboo with the caption, "We even got the black kid to throw it up #BarabooProud." Journalist Jules Suzdaltsev saved the post and shared it on his account, and it quickly spread on Twitter.
"If anybody from Baraboo High School in Wisconsin can clue me in on why it appears the entire male class of 2018 is throwing up a Sig Heil during their prom photos - that would be great," Suzdaltsev wrote. He noted that one student was making an "OK" sign with his fingers, which is considered a white power symbol by some and used by others to troll people concerned about white supremacy. The photo appeared to be taken off of school grounds and one of the students told Suzdaltsev they had all made the pose at the direction of the photographer.
The photographer who took the image told Madison365.com that it was being taken out of context and that he had told the boys to "wave goodbye," not to salute. A student in the photo disputed that account.
The image comes as schools around the country are concerned about hateful and bigoted acts, both at school and in students' social lives. It also comes as the country discusses ways to confront anti-Semitism in the wake of a hate-motivated attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue. Data from the Anti-Defamation League show that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 57 percent in 2017 over the previous year. And an Education Week analysis of hate incidents shows schools are wrestling with a variety of episodes, ranging from swastika grafiti to students taunting their Latino peers with chants of "build that wall."
Baraboo High School enrolls about 1,000 students, federal data show. A majority of those students, 870, are white. After Suzdaltsev shared the image, Twitter users who claimed to be current or former students of the school shared stories about racist acts committed against Latino, black, and Native American students.
The photo also prompted a response from the Auschwitz Memorial.
It is so hard to find words...-- Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 12, 2018
This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred. https://t.co/13AzZaMGJR
"We must all teach our children #tolerance and #understanding, both - at home and in school. For tolerance cannot be assumed... it must be taught. We all must make it clear that hate is never right and love is never wrong!" (Roman Kent, #Auschwitz survivor) https://t.co/jxdv5LHS5G-- Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 12, 2018
Baraboo School District administrators responded to the photo Monday morning and pledged to take action.
The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo. The District will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.-- Lori M. Mueller (@LoriMMueller) November 12, 2018
The city's police department said it is assisting in an investigation of the photo, although it is unclear what charges, if any, the students could face. Under federal anti-discrimination laws, schools are required to address harassment related to race, ethnicity, or national origin to ensure a learning environment free from hostility to all students.
The district also addressed the incident in a letter to parents.
The Baraboo School District sent the following letter to parents this afternoon in response to a photo circulating on social media. pic.twitter.com/0IXNUdLeRD-- Baraboo Schools (@barabooSD) November 12, 2018