MHS Nude Photo Investigation Paused Until the DOJ Investigation Closes, School Disciplinary Actions Finished

Middleton High School has paused an internal investigation into the nude photo incident. According to their last contact with the media, the Wisconsin Department of Justice is still investigating the sharing of nude photos at MHS.

Ella Roach

Middleton High School has paused an internal investigation into the nude photo incident. According to their last contact with the media, the Wisconsin Department of Justice is still investigating the sharing of nude photos at MHS.

By Ella Roach, Middleton High School - WI

Middleton High School has stopped issuing disciplinary actions in relation to a police investigation into the sharing of nude photos at the high school.

On February 22, spokesperson Perry Hibner told news outlets that about 20 students had been suspended and-or received athletic code violations. MHS Principal Peg Shoemaker confirmed last week that there have been no additional consequences since that statement was released.

The sharing of nude photos at MHS was first reported to the Middleton Police Department on Tuesday, February 11. The Wisconsin Department of Justice took over the investigation two days later. According to their last contact with the media, the state DOJ is still investigating the sharing of nude photos at MHS.

At the high school, all disciplinary actions were issued as a result of the police investigation. While police interviewed students, a school administrator was always in the room, as dictated by board policy.

“If police find something where a school rule has been violated, then the school issues consequences,” Shoemaker said. “But in terms of the investigation, it’s always been the police that’s on this, not the school.”

Shoemaker also commented on a rumor that the nude photographs were directly related to the MHS hockey team. “I would say that’s not true. Not in our particular interviews,” Shoemaker said. “I’ve heard that rumor, but nothing that I could substantiate or confirm at all . . . I think that’s a rumor.”

Shoemaker previously told The Cardinal Chronicle that she was planning to look into what reports past administration may have received about the sharing of nude photos. Since then, she has taken that request to the district level, but the district has not yet inquired into reports to previous administrations.

On recommendation from the school attorney, the district is waiting until the Wisconsin Department of Justice completes its investigation to do any internal inquiries. “But I have notes that have been provided to me, that I’ve passed on also to [the] district about it,” Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker noted that past administrations may have looked into reports they received about the sharing of nude photos, but found there was nothing that could be proved. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that any prior administrator didn’t do their due diligence. It just could be they did do their due diligence, and didn’t have anything more to act on,” she said.

Shoemaker is working closely with Student Senate to address aftereffects of the nude photo incident within the school. Student Senate is a group of students that frequently meets with the principal. Senate is composed of two elected representatives per grade, as well as representatives from MHS equity clubs and the Captain’s Table.

There is no clear path forward to addressing the ramifications of the incident. Sexting and its consequences are already in the MHS curriculum; the content is in health classes, and MHS deans meet with freshmen to discuss sexting and social media. “I’m not sure how to reach students about it,” Shoemaker said.

Student Senate has been working with some district staff to implement discussions of consent and sexual assault earlier in the health curriculum.

“But the whole sexting part—how do we reach kids?” Shoemaker wondered. “. . . It kind of is [a difficult question] because some kids see it as a personal choice between two people and don’t realize what happens when someone chooses to share that. And how do we make that palatable, where kids really understand how it is not appropriate—it really isn’t appropriate to share, and it’s not appropriate to receive.”

Administration is considering implementing a peer program to address sexting. “I always think peer mentors for big topics are the way to go, because of the fact that it’s a personal choice,” Shoemaker said. Peer mentoring is happening elsewhere in the high school: next year, the Link Crew program is considering adding a feature where upperclassmen Link Leaders train younger students on implicit bias and hate speech. A similar program may emerge in the future to address sexting concerns.

This story was originally published on The Cardinal Chronicle on March 8, 2020.