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WILL responds to Kiel Area School District closing Title IX investigation

Kiel Middle School main office
Kiel Middle School main office
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 9:04 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 3, 2022 at 10:06 PM CDT
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KIEL, Wis. (WBAY) - UPDATE JUNE 3:

A conservative group that challenged the Kiel Area School District’s Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual harassment has responded to the district’s decision to close the investigation.

News of the investigation sparked a series of bomb threats against the school district and the community.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty represented the three boys at the center of the investigation. WILL says it “intends to follow up with the District to ensure that the Title IX sexual harassment complaints are removed from the boys’ academic records.”

CLICK HERE to read WILL’s full statement.

WILL says the complaint alleged the three eighth-grade boys refused to use preferred pronouns of students who go by “they” and “them.” The group says that does not fall under sexual harassment under Title IX or district policy.

WILL Deputy Counsel Luke Berg says this is speech protected by the First Amendment.

“We are pleased that the Kiel Area School District has finally ended its misguided Title IX investigation. While the District’s statement attempts to reframe the investigation, it was always primarily about ‘mispronouncing.’ The District may not be willing to admit it publicly, but it has recognized that it has no legal basis to demand that our clients refrain from ‘mispronouncing’ other students.”

Rose Rabidoux, a parent of one of the boys, expressed relief that the investigation was closed.

“While we are glad that the District has ended its investigation, this dispute should have never been escalated to this point. We expect the Kiel Area School District to ensure that this Title IX complaint is not on my son’s record. We are thankful to our friends, family, and community for their support,” says Rabidoux.

On Friday, local and federal officials conducted “precautionary searches” in response to the June 1 threat to locations around Kiel. Nothing was found, according to police. At 10:38 a.m., police received an email referencing the Title IX investigation, but without a threat. The Kiel Emergency Management Team deployed search teams to those locations.

An email acknowledged the end of the investigation but promised future threats to any school district in the state attempting to pursue similar charges.

The email listed locations in New Holstein. Kiel Police informed officials in New Holstein of this.

Action 2 News asked Gov. Tony Evers if calling off the investigation sends the wrong message to the person who made the threats against the school district.

“It’s hard to second-guess school boards under these circumstances, but that person never will have won. I mean, I can guarantee it. We will do everything we can. Obviously that person will have some legal issues they will have to deal with, but at the end of the day that person has not won,” the governor said.

The police department says it continues to work with the Wisconsin Department of Justice and FBI on tracking the source of the emails. Police are not saying if they have any leads on the suspect.

A 34-year-old California man was arrested in connection with threats made to kill a Kiel Area School District staff member—unrelated to the bomb threats.

The issue captured national media attention and put Kiel in the spotlight of a heated polItical debate over the past two weeks.

“I hope we’re at a point now that we, everyone can cool down, because a lot of times it is copycats that have nothing to do with the issue at hand,” Gov. Evers said.

Article continues below the video

Gov. Evers comments on the Kiel school situation. We also have responses from the mother of one of the boys and an attorney.

TIMELINE

In March, a formal complaint of sexual harassment was filed with the Title IX Coordinator. The document lists the allegation of sexual harassment as “mispronouncing” at Kiel Middle School.

In April, the district informed families that the complaint had been filed, alleging the students “engaged in conduct based on gender identity toward the student including using incorrect pronouns and conduct that was harassing in nature.”

In May, WILL sent a letter to the district saying the investigation infringed on the boys’ First Amendment and Due Process rights. WILL called on the district to drop the investigation.

After the story became local and national news, the district received numerous threats referencing the Title IX investigation. Due to bomb threats, the school district went virtual through the end of the school year. The threats then expanded to city hall, businesses, facilities and homes of school officials. The messages were emailed to police, news media and school district members. The district was forced to delay its graduation ceremony out of concern for the community’s safety.

On June 2, WILL sent another letter to the district demanding the investigation be dismissed. Later that day, the Kiel Area School District announced it had closed the investigation.

The Board of Education writes, “One major concern at this point is that threats continue, to not only the schools but the Kiel Community. We have worked hard to find a resolution. With that said, we are writing to share with you that consistent with our Board policies and procedures, we have issued clear directives and expectations to all students involved in this matter for the purpose of preventing bullying and harassment and ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment for all of our students. Based on these actions, and pursuant to District policies and procedures, the School District considers this matter closed.”

“Finally, we know many of you sought to understand the situation better and wished the District had provided more information about this matter over the last several weeks. We too would have liked to engage the community in our discussions but were prohibited by state and federal laws related to student confidentiality, and deep concerns for student, staff, and public safety.”

CLICK HERE for the full statement from Kiel Area School District Board of Education.

INITIAL REPORT

The Kiel Board of Education says a sexual harassment investigation involving three eighth-grade boys is closed.

As we’ve reported, the boys were accused of refusing to identify a student by their preferred pronouns of “they” and “them.” The school said under federal Title IX requirements, it had to investigate any gender-based harassment in the form of name-calling on the basis of sex.

A letter from the school board to parents reads in part, “Consistent with our Board policies and procedures, we have issued clear directives and expectations to all students involved in this matter for the purpose of preventing bullying and harassment and ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment for all of our students.

“Based on these actions, and pursuant to District policies and procedures, the School District considers this matter closed.” You can read the complete letter below.

For the last two weeks, Kiel Middle School received threats to drop the investigation, including a series of bomb threats that named a growing number of targets, including schools, utilities, city buildings and roads. No explosive devices were ever found. The FBI and Wisconsin Department of Justice are investigating the threats.

As a precaution amid the threats, the district canceled in-person classes and went virtual. Graduation ceremonies were postponed. The school board moved its meeting online, at the police chief’s suggestion. The city of Kiel canceled its Memorial Day parade, but it was replaced with a march organized by the community.

The letter from the board asks the community to support the school district’s staff and administrators.

“These are individuals who have dedicated their careers to education and who selflessly put the interests of all students in front of their own each day they come to work in the District. We are disappointed that administration and staff have been targeted in this matter by individuals who are not privy to all of the information,” the board of education wrote.

An attorney for Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty said he was representing parents of the eighth-graders filed a lawsuit to have the complaint dropped. Deputy counsel Luke Berg called it a “gross application” of Title IX’s sexual harassment policy.

A parent of a middle-school student said the issue was about more than pronouns. They said their child would come home crying after being the target of homophobic slurs and harassment.

An attorney who’s an expert on Title IX told Action 2 News the school district had no choice but to investigate.

Letter from the Kiel Board of Education to the school community:

Dear School Community, As you know, the Kiel Area School District prohibits all forms of bullying and harassment in accordance with all laws, including Title IX, and will continue to support ALL students regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, sex (including transgender status, change of sex or gender identity), or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability (“Protected Classes”) in any of its student programs and activities, consistent with Board policy and the law.

Over the last several weeks, our school district and community have been greatly impacted by media attention related to a complaint involving harassment.

One major concern at this point is that threats continue, to not only the schools but the Kiel Community. We have worked hard to find a resolution. With that said, we are writing to share with you that consistent with our Board policies and procedures, we have issued clear directives and expectations to all students involved in this matter for the purpose of preventing bullying and harassment and ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment for all of our students.

Based on these actions, and pursuant to District policies and procedures, the School District considers this matter closed.

As we move forward, we want to acknowledge the strain on our administrators and staff who have been criticized for simply carrying out the functions of their job as set out in District policy. These are individuals who have dedicated their careers to education and who selflessly put the interests of all students in front of their own each day they come to work in the District. We are disappointed that administration and staff have been targeted in this matter by individuals who are not privy to all of the information and implore our school community to show support and care for each one of them.

Further, we want to thank our local law enforcement and first responders for their efforts and commitment to our community.

Finally, we know many of you sought to understand the situation better and wished the District had provided more information about this matter over the last several weeks. We too would have liked to engage the community in our discussions but were prohibited by state and federal laws related to student confidentiality, and deep concerns for student, staff, and public safety.

Thank you for your continued support as we grow and move forward as a school community with concern for all of our students.

Thank you,

Board of Education

Kiel Area School District.

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