Kiel buildings evacuated, graduation postponed after police receive 5th bomb threat

The threats started last Monday.
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 6:22 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2022 at 5:15 AM CDT
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KIEL, Wis. (WBAY) - A credible source said Kiel High School graduation has been postponed following a fifth bomb threat against the city and school district Tuesday.

The ceremony was originally scheduled for Sunday, June 5 at 7:30.

The latest threat caused employees at several locations in Kiel to evacuate.

“Yeah, it’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating for the parents. It’s frustrating for the kids. It’s frustrating for the school people. At the end of the day you will find out who perpetrated this and it’s a significant crime,” Gov. Tony Evers said.

At about 9:28 a.m., police received an email with a threat directed at Kiel Middle School, Kiel High School, the Kiel School District Office, Zielanis Elementary School, Kiel City Hall, and the Kiel Public Library. The message was also sent to media members, including Action 2 News.

All of the threats refer to the Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by three middle school students. The threats started last Monday.

“They’ll work through this, but in the meantime, there’s no reason to believe that schools are not a safe place and there’s no reason to believe that at the end of the day perpetrators who are causing schools to be closed will be brought to trial and found guilty,” Evers continued.

Employees at all locations were evacuated and the buildings were searched. No devices were located.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice and FBI were notified and continue to investigate the threats.

Meanwhile, a California man was arrested in connection with threats made to kill a Kiel Area School District staff member—unrelated to recent bomb threats. The Kiel Police Department said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took a 34-year-old Oceanside, Calif. resident into custody.

“We sincerely appreciate the FBI’s assistance in locating and apprehending this man who can now be brought to justice for making a threat to kill a staff member of the Kiel Area School District,” Chief of Police Dave Funkhouser wrote in a media release.

Charges will be referred related to the threat, though the suspect also faces Federal charges from a separate FBI investigation.

Classes will be virtual through the end of the school year due to the rash of bomb threats. The threats say unless the district halts its investigation of sexual harassment against three eighth-graders and apologizes, the threats will escalate and could target the rest of the community, including city hall, grocery stores and power stations.

Due to safety concerns, the city canceled its Memorial Day Parade. Local organizers decided to put together a march.

“When it comes to Memorial Day, our vets, and our military, they throw themselves into the line of fire every single day,” Jeanette Deschene, an organizer of the Kiel Memorial Day March, shared. “This is the least that we can do. To stand up and say we’re not going to be bullied. This is a day to honor them.”

In April, the parents of 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.

An expert on the law tells us the school district had to take action and investigate, regardless of the repercussions.

Lora Zimmer, a Title IX attorney at McCarty Law LLP, said, “Discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, based on gender identity, is prohibited under federal law -- that schools are obligated to take action. It’s not a choice on their part whether to allow discrimination of this type to happen. They’re required to take action.”

WILL filed a lawsuit on behalf of the families of the boys’ being investigated, asking for the complaint to be dropped. WILL tells Action 2 News it will not withdraw its lawsuit even in the wake of the ongoing threats to the Kiel community.

“We live in a society where we resolve our differences by public debate and the rule of law. We do not resolve them by violence or threats of violence. The difference between our clients and the Kiel Area School District will be resolved through legal means. As such, we unequivocally condemn whoever has sent threats to the Kiel Area School District. We do not know who made these threats, but they certainly do not speak for us or what we believe in. We will not stand down because of them and, while we disagree with the Kiel Area School District, we wouldn’t expect it to be intimidated by threats either. For either of us to do so would be to sacrifice the rule of law to the rule of intimidation. We don’t need threats of violence to resolve our differences. Legal processes are more than adequate,” Berg says.

The city has been expressing a message of positivity to counter the threats

The city has adopted a motto of “Be the Light.” Officials are asking people to turn on lights around their homes to support the community.

“Stay faithful. Stay Focused. Stay Safe. Be Prepared, Not Scared,” reads a statement from Police Chief Dave Funkhouser.

The Kiel Area School District posted photos of lights shining on the football field.

The latest threat caused employees at several locations in Kiel to evacuate.

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