A Wisconsin school district will not punish students who were photographed last spring while appearing to give the Nazi salute, a district official said.
The photo showing a group of male, mostly white high school students in the Baraboo School District with their arms raised sparked an investigation by police and the school district, along with criticism from a Holocaust memorial group.
The picture, which was tagged #Barabooproud, was originally posted on the @GoBaraboo parody account with the caption, “We even got the black kid to throw it up.” It has since been taken down.
In a recent letter to parents and the community, Baraboo School District Administrator Lori M. Mueller said the district made the decision after a 10-day review. She said district officials are unclear about some key details surrounding the photograph despite their efforts.
“As previously stated, we cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved. Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions,” Mueller said in the letter, which Baraboo School Board of Education President Kevin Vodak shared with CNN.
Mueller said: “What we do know is that this image was posted to social media with a comment to create harm.”
According to Mueller, the photo was taken last May outside the Sauk County Courthouse in downtown Baraboo, about 40 miles northwest of Madison, as students and parents gathered for pre-prom photographs. The students in the photograph are current and former Baraboo High students, the district administrator said.
The photo was taken by parent who is not contracted by the school district as a photographer, according to Mueller.
CNN affiliate WISN previously identified the photographer as Pete Gust. He told the station critics took the photo out of context.
Gust said he asked the students to wave goodbye to their parents. “There was no Nazi salute,” he said.
Not everyone in the photo took part in the gesture.
The Auschwitz Memorial Twitter page was among groups that criticized the photo.
“This is why every single day we work to educate,” the organization posted on social media. “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.”
CNN’s Darran Simon, Christina Maxouris, Eric Levenson and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report.