Baraboo Superintendent says focus will be on safety going forward

Graduation shoving incident has gotten national attention

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Rainey Briggs is the superintendent of Baraboo School District Photo courtesy of Briggs

Baraboo School Superintendent Rainey Briggs doesn’t know what motivated a father to walk onto the stage during a high school graduation ceremony and push Briggs before he could shake the man’s daughter’s hand. But, he said, he knows the optics don’t look good. 

Briggs filed a temporary restraining order against a parent who stormed the stage May 31 and pushed him away before Briggs could shake his daughter’s hand.

Briggs is Black, the father is white. The incident has been shared widely on social media and covered in the national and international media, with many calling the father’s actions racist.

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“I think the only person that can tell you whether it’s race related is (the father),” Briggs said on Wednesday. “I do know when you really look at the totality of everything, and how it happened, and really kind of understand the reasoning behind it happening, it doesn’t look good.” 

The father has not responded to requests for comment. 

Briggs said when the father first jumped on stage, he thought the man was trying to help him. 

But then he heard him say: “No, you’re not,” followed by, “You’re not going to touch my f—ing daughter.”

Briggs said he backed away, because he was worried the man had a weapon. 

“It was split seconds, and I had to think, ‘Is he going to cause harm to me? To this room?’” Briggs said. “It didn’t make sense to me what was happening in this particular moment.” 

Rainey Briggs is the superintendent of Baraboo School District
Rainey Briggs is the superintendent of Baraboo School District. Photo courtesy of Briggs

Briggs said he had never seen the man before. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a crowd,” Briggs said.

It has been reported the man was upset at Briggs over a perceived slight to his daughter during a previous meeting with district officials. 

Briggs would not comment on the girl’s academic record. 

“My heart goes out to her,” Briggs said. “My heart goes out to the other 250 students who graduated, and my heart goes out to all of the families that were there. To have that disrupted and damaged is unfortunate.” 

Briggs says Baraboo shouldn’t be judged based on this incident.

Briggs, 46, just completed his third year as superintendent of the Baraboo School District. Before being hired in Baraboo, he was the director of elementary education in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. 

Briggs said the Baraboo community was welcoming when he arrived. 

“With any community, there was some skepticism, as with any leader that comes on board with what they’re going to do and change,” Briggs said. 

Baraboo has a population of about 13,000 people and is located about an hour northwest of Madison. 

The school district has about 2,700 students. Of those, 80 percent are white, 10 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are Black, according to the state report card. 

The graduation incident is not the first time racism has been associated with the school district. 

In 2021, the district settled a federal lawsuit filed by a student who said her civil rights had been violated under Title VI and Title IX, which protect students against racial and sexual harassment and discrimination. 

Dasia Banks detailed years of harassment in the lawsuit beginning when she was in first grade, when classmates teased her about her hair and skin color. 

In 2018, the district came under fire after photos surfaced of a large group of Baraboo students making a Nazi salute.

Briggs said those issues should not define the community or the school district.

Moving forward, Briggs said he will approach his job differently. 

“Being cognizant of what can happen and making sure we are doing everything we can to create a safety net,” Briggs said. “We want to make sure when people attend our events they are safe in our environments.”

The incident at the graduation ceremony comes as a community group has launched a petition to oust long-time School Board President Kevin Vodak.

Lana Campbell, who heads the local Parents’ Rights in Education chapter, started a petition in May and has until July 14 to submit more than 2,500 signatures to force a recall election.

The group has also raised concerns over Briggs’s salary, claiming he earns more than his peers. Briggs’ salary and benefits package totaled $198,128 in the 2021-22 school year. Last year, his total compensation was $213,525, a more than $15,000 increase in two years.

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