After some Baraboo High School students made what appeared to be Nazi salutes during a 2018 prom photo shoot, the community launched a series of public forums called Baraboo Talks to address antisemitism and other types of intolerance.
That’s in stark contrast with how Milton reacted after a group of students formed with their bodies a swastika on the Milton High School gym floor Sept. 30. Milton Keeps Quiet would be a good name for the school district’s response. The community has taken its cues from school leaders who’ve covered up the incident both in their public statements and in their internal record keeping.
A major difference between the two communities’ incidents is that one drew national attention and one did not. Milton’s reaction seems predicated on preventing it from becoming another Baraboo, which involved a photo of the incident going viral and an intense wave of national news coverage. We don’t blame Milton for wanting to avoid negative publicity. Unfortunately, Milton has made protecting its image a higher priority than confronting antisemitism.
District officials say they took the incident seriously, but they’ve offered scant proof. Indeed, Milton Superintendent Rich Dahman cannot even bring himself to utter the word “swastika,” and he won’t comment about why he won’t say it. Students in the class that formed the swastika have been spoken to about the symbol, its history and why it is inappropriate, according to Dahman. But in an open records request seeking documents about the incident, The Gazette found no information about these discussions. There was also no evidence of an effort to address the issue with the larger student body. In fact, many of the documents focus on dealing with media inquiries.
Expanding the conversation about the reprehensible actions committed by Nazis before and during World War II would require more candidness than Dahman and other district officials seem willing to provide.
The Milton School Board has done the community no favors by following Dahman’s lead. If it deliberated this issue at all, the board did so secretly. It missed an opportunity to make a public display of its values as Baraboo did. The Baraboo School Board passed a resolution condemning hate and advocating for “equal empowerment for all who come to us for educational services and support.”
Baraboo later formed a countywide coalition of local stakeholders and outside groups that focus on fostering acceptance of people with different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Whether the Milton students acted out of ignorance or maliciously, the brazenness of the Sept. 30 incident raises troubling questions. These students didn’t merely etch a swastika inside a bathroom stall or locker door. They did it as a group effort in the wide open—on the gym floor. What aspects of Milton High School’s culture might have contributed to this incident? Milton’s incident was similar to Baraboo’s in that the Baraboo students made their controversial symbol on the steps of the local courthouse, also in the wide open.
Baraboo has been dealing with the fallout from that incident for more than a year. While some people say Baraboo paid too steep a price, the community took responsibility for educating its youth about Nazism and its legacy.
The same cannot be said for Milton. It’s worse off for its silence.