Questions of racism raised again in Baraboo School District

Superintendent files temporary restraining order against parent following graduation incident

Lockers, school, artwork
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo

Baraboo School Superintendent Rainey Briggs filed a temporary restraining order against a parent who stormed the stage during last week’s high school graduation and pushed him away before Briggs could shake his daughter’s hand. 

In the order filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court, the man is to have no contact with Briggs pending a June 14 hearing.

A video of the Friday graduation ceremony shows a man jumping on stage and shoving Briggs away from the congratulatory handshake line after the girl had already been greeted by others in the line that included members of the school board and Principal Steve Considine.

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Briggs can be heard telling the man to get away from him, with a voice saying, “I don’t want her touching him.”

It is unclear what prompted the man to storm the stage, but Briggs is Black and the father is white, leading many to speculate the incident was racially motivated.

Neither returned requests for comment. 

In a statement released Tuesday, the Baraboo School Board said it values civil discourse, but does not condone threatening, intimidating or physical harming behaviors. 

“No employee of the School District of Baraboo should fear for their physical safety when fulfilling their job duties or at any other time,” the statement said. 

Previous lawsuit described pattern of racism, sexual assault

Dasia Banks filed a federal lawsuit in 2021 accusing the Baraboo School District of violating her civil rights under Title VI and Title IX, which protect students against racial and sexual harassment and discrimination.

The suit detailed years of harassment beginning when Banks was in first grade, when classmates teased her about her coarse hair and skin color.

Racial incidents continued through middle and high school and were met with “deliberate indifference” by school officials, the lawsuit said.

The teenager said she told school officials she was called racial and derogatory slurs.

The district agreed to settle with Banks, but it was not the first time school officials had deal with racist allegations.

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

Parents rights group seeks to oust school board president

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.

The group has until July 14 to submit more than 2,500 signatures to force a recall election. 

In November, Campbell promoted a slate of school board candidates who wanted to remove certain books from the school library, including “Kite Runner,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” according to WISC-TV

The three candidates lost their elections.

Campbell would not comment on the recall of Vodak, saying her focus is on his removal from office. 

Critics have accused Vodak of favoritism toward the administration, providing inadequate pay and administrative support for teachers, and unfairly firing former Jack Young Middle School Principal Abby Alt and a former school resource officer. 

The recall group has also raised concerns over Briggs’ salary and how it compares with is 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.

Briggs also earned an extra $214 a day when he filled in as principal at Jack Young Middle School from Nov. 2023 through April 2024.

Vodak did not respond to requests for comment.