BELOIT

Dozens of protesters gathered Friday across from Kolak Education Center to protest what they believe was a mishandling of an incident involving a School District of Beloit teacher putting tape on a student’s mask Oct. 26.

According to police reports obtained by Adams Publishing Group earlier in the week, there were differing accounts given by the student, his parents, and another teacher and students present during the incident at McNeel Intermediate School. Beloit police did not make any arrests, and the officer tasked with investigating the incident said there was no evidence of a crime being committed.

In the report, the student told the officer the teacher wrapped duct tape around his head five times. However, the teacher, who APG is not identifying since no arrest was made, told the officer she “frequently jokes” with her students and said she then told the student to pull his mask up or “she would tape it to him,” telling the officer she made the statement as a joke.

The teacher said she walked toward the student after ripping off a piece of tape and putting it on the front of the student’s mask. The teacher said the student at the time of placing the tape on the mask was laughing, with the teacher removing the tape from the student’s mask shortly after the incident.

Despite the portrayal of the incident the teacher gave police, protesters considered it a serious matter with many demanding the teacher be fired. Others showed up to speak out against required masking and to support the child in general.

Jody Wittnebel of Beloit said she wasn’t aligned with any particular group but came out to show support for the child and his parents. She was toting a small dog and doling out hugs. Although Witt-nebel said she felt compassion for teachers struggling to keep kids in their masks as they are required to wear them in the district, she said the teacher went too far. She said tape placed on a child’s face, even a small piece, is a form of bullying and that the joking nature referenced in the police report made it sound like humiliation.

“To me, the issue is bullying,” she said.

The father and mother of the child involved in the incident were at the protest, though they declined to give their names. The parents said they will be taking the issue to court because they consider what happened to be an assault. They said the district has not apologized for what happened or reached out aside from the superintendent calling to say there were plans to move their child to another school. The father said he has called and tried to talk to someone at the district but the phone calls end as soon as he gives his name.

Although the superintendent has spoken out publicly against threats and racism after the incident, the father said he personally is not the one who is threatening the district and that the Friday protest was peaceful. He noted he and his wife have received death threats from unknown people via Facebook.

The father said the teacher admitted to using tape in police reports and no matter how much of it was used, it was wrong. He said he was concerned he wasn’t contacted by the school the day the incident happened. The father said a school liaison officer took the report after interviewing the teacher and that he thought the officer’s mind was made up before he arrived at his home to interview the family.

“School should be a safe zone, not a place kids fear to go,” the father said.

Resident MaryAnn Sveom, who was donning a mask with duct tape, said she considered the incident to be child abuse that is being ignored by the school district and police department. Even if it was only one small piece of tape used, she said it was wrong and needs to be addressed. Sveom said she thought it was ridiculous for the school district to close the schools over the protest that was held, noting that it was safe and peaceful.

Sveom said she hopes the incident is settled in court.

“We want justice for the child,” Sveom said.

Six men from the Proud Boys Chapter of Wisconsin were in attendance donning yellow and black Proud Boys attire. They said they are center or right-leaning politically and enjoy having a space for men to socialize and are not racist as depicted by the media. They said their group usually is fraternal and social but occasionally gets involved in political activism. They said they came to protest as what happened involved a child and is a form of child abuse. They said there is no excuse to put hands on a child and that it is a form of humiliation.

A woman who called herself Sally said masks don’t work and encouraged people to read the packaging. She also said no one should tape anything to someone’s face. She said if a child had put tape on a teacher’s face, it would have been considered assault. She said parents should be more in charge when it comes to situations like these and should reconsider paying their property taxes.

Earlier in the day the district canceled school due to safety concerns issuing the following statement:

“Our priority is always the safety and well-being of our students and staff. We have been informed that an outside group has a planned event in our community that may be disruptive to the school day and to our students and staff. Considering the behaviors, actions, and language of certain groups who do not consider the safety and well-being of others, our buildings are closed and there is no school today. The decision to close our buildings was made in collaboration with the City of Beloit Police Department.

“We have zero-tolerance for hate speech, violence, or threats made against our staff and District. We stand together as a District and community against all forms of hate and racism.”

The district did not return a phone call by press time to confirm or deny the father’s statements regarding the child being moved to another school. However, the police and district issued some written comments after the protest.

“There is no place in Beloit for hate groups. Fear tactics and racially charged hate speech are not reflective of who we are as Beloiters. I support the joint decision to exercise an abundance of caution and close schools today to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff,” Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said.

“I am asking that everyone unify and come together, so that we can focus on what is truly important; the education and well-being of our children in our community. I want to thank the City of Beloit and the City of Beloit Police Department for their continued support of our District,” School District of Beloit Superintendent Dan Keyser said.

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