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Wisconsin school district believes free speech protects students in alleged Nazi salute photo

A Wisconsin school district has decided that free speech gives students to post in salute photo that was taken off-campus. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

A Wisconsin school district says it believes free speech protects students who posed in a an alleged Nazi salute photo.

What was determined?

The district on Wednesday sent out a letter stating it has finished part of its investigation into the pre-prom photo, but some key questions remain unanswered, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Baraboo School District Administrator Lori Mueller indicated the district is still trying to understand what happened before and after the photo was taken.

“As previously stated, we cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” Mueller wrote in the statement. “Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”

According to multiple reports, the photo was taken in May before the prom, as students and their families gathered outside the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo.

Parent Peter Gust reportedly took the photo and he said he was only telling students to wave.

During a community meeting on Monday attended by about 200 people, Mueller said the district is working to repair the damage the photo has caused in the community. School leaders are also planning long- and short-term ways to curb hate and racism, the report stated.

“We must come together and, in a meaningful way, consider the travesties of the past that were fueled by hatred and embrace the celebration of diversity fueled by love and acceptance,” the district's letter stated.

What was the community response?

Although the photo was taken in May it only recently went viral on social media. The photo received a strong rebuke from people and groups against anti-Semitism, including the Auschwitz Memorial museum in Poland.

In a Nov. 18 editorial, the Wisconsin State Journal stated:

“School officials must get to the bottom of what happened, and whether any of the boys had bad intentions, as one student who didn’t raise his arm has suggested. Baraboo police also are investigating threats to the safety of students and the school.

“...The public deserves to know the truth.”

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