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Kiel Middle School receives bomb threat amid pronoun case fight

Kiel Middle School evacuated for bomb threat. May 23, 2022.
Kiel Middle School evacuated for bomb threat. May 23, 2022.(WBAY)
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 11:09 AM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2022 at 5:44 AM CDT
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KIEL, Wis. (WBAY) - UPDATE 5/24:

Kiel Middle School received another bomb threat Tuesday as the district continues to investigate allegations of harassment against three boys.

On May 24, at about 7:40 a.m., police received an email with a threat referencing the Title IX investigation by the district.

It’s the second bomb threat in two days. The district was evacuated Monday for a bomb threat against the middle school.

Classes were canceled Tuesday due to the threats. The school was locked and no students or staff were in any school buildings at the time of Tuesday’s threat.

A search of the building turned up no devices and it was cleared.

“I just wish everyone would calm down and start taking so we can try and resolve these issues peacefully and the anger and hatred that’s being spread on this issue is really disheartening,” Chief David Funkhouser with the Kiel Police Department said Monday.

The Kiel Police Department has enlisted the help of the State Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist in investigating threats.

Funkhouser says he recommended the Kiel School Board either postpone their May 23 meeting or go virtual. The board has opted to have a virtual meeting on May 25.

Funkhouser says he supports rights to express opinions to the school board, but he was concerned for their safety.

In April, the parents of the three boys were notified their sons were being charged by school district officials with sexual harassment. A section of Title IX prohibits gender-based harassment in the form of name-calling on the basis of sex.

The district claims the boys were not referring to a student’s requested pronouns of “they” and “them.”

Through a letter from their attorney, the parents are asking for the charges to be dropped immediately, saying they have no standing legally.

“It’s not sexual harassment under Title IX, under their own policy, under federal law, and it’s probably a First Amendment violation. Almost certainly, if that’s their theory, that solely using the wrong pronoun, that that would be a First Amendment violation,” Luke Berg with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty said. “This is a really gross application of Title IX sexual harassment charges. Sexual harassment covers really egregious stuff, not using the so-called wrong pronoun.”

The attorney also said the charges have no standing under the school district’s own policy.

“Eighth-graders shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of investigation or this type of reputational harm for something that on its face clearly doesn’t violate Title IX in sexual harassment. Their own policy says that if on the face of the complaint the conduct, even if proven, wouldn’t amount to sexual harassment it should be immediately dismissed, and that’s what should have happened here and it didn’t,” Berg said.

The student at the center of this has not been publicly identified.

A Kiel middle school parent said it’s about more than pronouns. The parent explained their child has come home from school crying, as they’ve been the target of homophobic slurs and harassment.

“The KASD 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; this is consistent with school board policy. We do not comment on any student matters,” said Brad Ebert, Kiel Superintendent.

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MONDAY’S REPORT

Kiel Middle School received a bomb threat Monday as police announced they are working to investigate “threatening communications” toward School District staff regarding a sexual harassment investigation involving students who refused to call another student by their preferred pronoun.

“I just wish everyone would calm down and start taking so we can try and resolve these issues peacefully and the anger and hatred that’s being spread on this issue is really disheartening,” Chief David Funkhouser with the Kiel Police Department said.

The district evacuated the elementary school, middle school, and high school. Parents picked up students at City Hall. Buses were available to transport other children home. Classes are canceled Tuesday in the district.

Some parents picking up their children expressed fear of ongoing issues in the school district, the bomb threat just the latest.

“It’s scary. You never know if these are credible threats or what you’re dealing with,” Kiel parent Rebecca Goble said.

Superintendent Brad Ebert says all students and staff are safe.

Kiel Middle School received a bomb threat Monday as police announced they are working to investigate “threatening communications” toward School District staff.

The Kiel Police Department enlisted the help of the State Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist in investigating threats.

“We would love to bring the people responsible for making these threats to justice. Regardless of how you feel about the situation, there’s better ways to handle crisis problems and issues than acting in this behavior, this manner,” Funkhouser said.

Buses wait to pick up evacuated Kiel students at City Hall. May 23, 2022.
Buses wait to pick up evacuated Kiel students at City Hall. May 23, 2022.(WBAY)

Earlier Monday, Funkhouser announced that extra patrols would be around school buildings due to communications he called “extremely vulgar, hateful, and disturbing.”

“Our actions are in response to the hateful comments expressed to the staff of the schools, and we proactively increased our presence in and around district buildings and grounds,” says Funkhouser.

Funkhouser says he recommended the Kiel School Board either postpone their May 23 meeting or go virtual. The board has opted to have a virtual meeting on May 25.

“On behalf of the Kiel Area School District Board of Education, in light of recent attention brought to the school district and the volatility of the situation, law enforcement is concerned for the safety of all involved, including staff, citizens and board members, and have recommended to the KASD Board of Education to cancel/postpone the board meeting that was scheduled for Monday, May 23, 2022. The board met today and decided to move the meeting to Wednesday, May 25, 2022 at 4 pm. This will be a virtual only meeting. There will not be an onsite meeting that day.

“Information about board meetings, including a feedback form can be found on the School Board Webpage.

”Thank you for the continued support of our school.”

Kiel Area School District

Funkhouser says he hopes it will allow time to “cool off” and “hopefully allow for logical, rational, and meaningful dialogue to occur.”

Funkhouser says he supports rights to express opinions to the school board, but he was concerned for their safety.

In April, the parents of the three boys were notified their sons were being charged by school district officials with sexual harassment. A section of Title IX prohibits gender-based harassment in the form of name-calling on the basis of sex.

The district claims the boys were not referring to a student’s requested pronouns of “they” and “them.”

Through a letter from their attorney, the parents are asking for the charges to be dropped immediately, saying they have no standing legally.

“It’s not sexual harassment under Title IX, under their own policy, under federal law, and it’s probably a First Amendment violation. Almost certainly, if that’s their theory, that solely using the wrong pronoun, that that would be a First Amendment violation,” Luke Berg with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty said. “This is a really gross application of Title IX sexual harassment charges. Sexual harassment covers really egregious stuff, not using the so-called wrong pronoun.”

The attorney also said the charges have no standing under the school district’s own policy.

“Eighth-graders shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of investigation or this type of reputational harm for something that on its face clearly doesn’t violate Title IX in sexual harassment. Their own policy says that if on the face of the complaint the conduct, even if proven, wouldn’t amount to sexual harassment it should be immediately dismissed, and that’s what should have happened here and it didn’t,” Berg said.

The student at the center of this has not been publicly identified.

A Kiel middle school parent said it’s about more than pronouns. The parent explained their child has come home from school crying, as they’ve been the target of homophobic slurs and harassment.

“The KASD 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; this is consistent with school board policy. We do not comment on any student matters,” said Brad Ebert, Kiel Superintendent.

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