Bomb threats end harassment investigation into student’s misgendering, WILL celebrates win

By: - June 3, 2022 1:11 pm

A Title IX investigation into three 8th grade students in Kiel led to bomb threats in the community. (Kiel Area School District)

Last month, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a right-wing legal organization, sent a letter to the Kiel Area School District asking it to end a Title IX harassment investigation into three eighth-grade boys for repeatedly misgendering a classmate. To further its cause, WILL embarked on a national media campaign to draw attention to the 1,500-student district. 

That attention — which included appearances on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show, Newsmax and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal — resulted in six bomb threats made against the district, Kiel City Hall, the Kiel Public Library, the homes of district employees, roads and utility companies in the city. The threats resulted in the district going to virtual school for the remainder of the year, the cancellation of the city’s Memorial Day parade and the postponement of the high school graduation. 

WILL condemned the threats, yet when the school board decided on Wednesday to close the Title IX investigation because of the threats against students and the community, the outfit celebrated. 

“We are pleased that the Kiel Area School District has finally ended its misguided Title IX investigation,” Deputy Counsel Luke Berg said in a statement. “While the District’s statement attempts to reframe the investigation, it was always primarily about ‘mispronouning.’ The District may not be willing to admit it publicly, but it has recognized that it has no legal basis to demand that our clients refrain from ‘mispronouning’ other students.”

The investigation began after the boys refused to refer to a classmate by their preferred they/them pronouns. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2020 that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited. WILL has regularly taken up cases fighting for anti-LGBT causes. 

On Wednesday night the school board said in a statement that it dealt with the issue with the students involved. 

“Over the last several weeks, our school district and community have been greatly impacted by media attention related to a complaint involving harassment,” the board stated. “One major concern at this point is that threats continue, to not only the schools but the Kiel Community. We have worked hard to find a resolution. With that said, we are writing to share with you that consistent with our Board policies and procedures, we have issued clear directives and expectations to all students involved in this matter for the purpose of preventing bullying and harassment and ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment for all of our students.”

The response from WILL and its leadership following the investigation’s close diverges from how the group responded to previous threats from people associated with a different political point of view. 

Last month, a group threw a molotov cocktail through the window of a Madison-based anti-abortion group’s office, starting a small fire, and writing a message on the wall. Following the incident, WILL President Rick Esenberg wrote on Twitter that defending these types of actions makes someone a “jerk.” 

“So sad to hear of the cowardly attack on the offices of [Wisconsin Family Action] and Juliane Appling,” Esenberg wrote. “If you defend this kind of thing, you are a jerk of the first water. If you offer a partial excuse due to ‘passions,’ you are a useful idiot.” 

Following the fire at Wisconsin Family Action, Esenberg and Republicans blamed the wider Democratic party for the attack. Yet after bomb threats against school children, Esenberg said it was just “some yahoos.” 

“However well-intentioned the school district might be, we agree with the families and have carefully explained our position,” Esenberg tweeted last week. “Literally making a federal case out of using the correct (but not preferred) pronoun is not only legally wrong. This was not about ‘bullying.’ The district’s insistence that one must conform at all times is, sadly, an act of aggression in what are called ‘the culture wars.’ These families had no obligation to submit or to be silent. To the contrary, the district deserved to be challenged for its actions.” 

“It is my understanding that some yahoos called in threats,” he continued. “When we heard, we publicly condemned them. But those who speak out against what they believe to be injustice are not to blame for the irresponsible actions of those who hear about it … Disagree if you want but respect both a culture of free speech and a true diversity of perspectives. The Overton window is larger than your preferences.” 

The Kiel Police Department is continuing to work with state and federal law enforcement to find who made the bomb threats.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.