Wisconsin Students Criticized for 'Hateful' Nazi-Themed Prom Photo Won't Be Punished

A group of Wisconsin high school students who sparked outrage after appearing to give the Nazi salute in a pre-prom photograph will not be disciplined for the act, a school official said.

Baraboo School District administrator Lori Mueller said in a letter to parents last week that despite the 10-day investigation into the headline-making incident, authorities are “still unclear about some key details,” according to the Baraboo News Republic.

“We cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” Mueller wrote in the letter obtained by the News Republic. “Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”

The statements come about two weeks after the photo — taken ahead of the school’s junior prom last spring — went viral. The photo was shared on a “parody” Twitter account called “Welcome to Baraboo” and to Facebook, according to the News Republic.

The photo showed about 50 former and current male high school students laughing as they gave the salute. Alongside the photo, the now-deleted tweet said: “We even got the black kid to throw it up #BarabooProud.”

RELATED: Wisconsin Students Criticized for ‘Extremely Inappropriate’ and ‘Hateful’ Nazi-Themed Prom Photo

One student, Jordan Blue, did not participate in the gesture, standing in the top right corner with his arms at his sides. In the midst of the controversy, Blue spoke with journalist Jules Suzdaltsev, saying that he was “uncomfortable” with the shot.

“I have struggled with [bullying] my entire life and nothing has changed,” he said in a message shared by Suzdaltsev on Twitter.  “I truly & firmly believe we need to make a change to this horrible act, it needs to stop.”

Blue said that the photographer, Pete Gust, instructed the students to give the salute. However, Gust — whose son Matthew is featured in the image — told the Associated Press that he told the students to wave goodbye.

As the photo made its way around the Internet, Mueller condemned the picture in a tweet.

“The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo,” she tweeted. “The District will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.”

School officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.

Amid the social media storm, officials with the Auschwitz Memorial Museum explained why education is paramount to preventing the display from becoming normalized.

“It is so hard to find words…This is why every single day we work hard to educate,” museum officials wrote in the tweet. “We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred.”

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In response to the “hateful” photo, students at Rufus King International High School in Milwaukee posed in their own photo to condemn the display last week. The picture shows dozens of students smiling as they hold up peace and love signs.

“In response to the racist photo out of Baraboo, WI depicting students flashing hate symbols, the Rufus King High School community would like to offer up their vision of a state united in ❤️ and ✌️,” the caption reads.

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