Wheatland Union High School District Superintendent Nicole Newman delivers a video message on Dec. 30, 2021, addressing a photo of students covered in swastikas that went viral on social media. (Screenshot)
Wheatland Union High School District Superintendent Nicole Newman delivers a video message on Dec. 30, 2021, addressing a photo of students covered in swastikas that went viral on social media. (Screenshot)

Wheatland High takes ‘disciplinary action’ against students after swastika stunt

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The head of Wheatland High School, north of Sacramento, has confirmed that the school has disciplined students who posted a picture of themselves covered with swastikas and SS symbols on social media.

In a video statement posted to Facebook on Dec. 30, Wheatland Union High School District Superintendent Nicole Newman said while she was “legally precluded from sharing details regarding their disciplinary action, I can share with you that we took immediate action.”

The photo, which surfaced on Dec. 20 and went viral on social media, triggering numerous stories in the news media, showed eight students with swastikas and SS symbols drawn in pen and marker on their upper bodies.

In her video statement, Newman said the photo and the public response to it had been disturbing for her personally and for her staff. She said death threats had been made against them “on a daily basis” and also against their families.

“This has been one of the most traumatizing experiences in my life,” she said.

According to the Sacramento Bee, a 22-year-old Truckee man was arrested after police say he threatened to “shoot up” the school on Twitter, but the Appeal Democrat, a local paper, said no charges were pressed.

Students thought to be from Wheatland High School seen covered in Nazi symbols (Photo/Courtesy ADL)
Students thought to be from Wheatland High School seen covered in Nazi symbols (Photo/Courtesy ADL)

The incident has resurfaced questions about whether and how schools can punish students for out-of-school behavior. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that a school in Pennsylvania that punished a cheerleader for a vulgar remark made on social media had violated her free speech rights. But the decision did not establish a ban on schools regulating what and how students can say outside school.

The Anti-Defamation League, whose regional director Seth Brysk tweeted about the Wheatland photo, responded following the Supreme Court ruling. “It is noteworthy that the Court also recognized that public schools may have a special interest in regulating some particular types of off-campus student speech,” the ADL said in a press release, “including ‘serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals.’ This appropriately reflects the need to balance free speech protections against the ways in which social media can be used to inflict real harm on others.”

In an earlier statement, on Dec. 23, Newman said the school was consulting with lawyers before disciplining the students.

“There is no denying that the choices made by the students in the picture were hurtful and deeply troubling,” she said at the time. “Their actions do not represent who we are as a school district and community.”

In her almost four-minute video statement a week later, which addressed the Wheatland community of about 4,000 people, Newman shared several times that the school was committed to combating racism. However, she did not mention the word “antisemitism” during the statement.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.