BELOIT, Wis. — A “masking incident” at a Beloit school has led to canceled classes Friday as school administrators say they fear for student safety amid a planned protest that might be disruptive.
That incident was a joke and a challenge from the student to his special education teacher, multiple students and the teacher involved told police, according to records obtained by News 3 Investigates. When a student wasn’t wearing his mask properly after a McNeel Intermediate School teacher asked him to, she joked she’d have to “tape” the mask.
The student challenged her to do it, the teacher told police, and the student and classroom laughed as she used a small piece of clear classroom tape on the mask before taking it immediately off.
The next day, the student and his family, none of whom are identified in reports, told police they wanted to pursue assault charges.
What teachers told police: Tape was clear, small, and started as a joke
A teacher at McNeel Intermediate School* was starting her class last Tuesday, October 26. She told police she had just told another student to put his mask on when the student at the center of the investigation, whose name is redacted in police reports because he is a juvenile, turned around to face her and pull up his mask to cover his eyes. She didn’t say anything to him yet, the teacher told police, but she did ask the classroom to wear their masks properly.
“[The teacher] stated [the student] then pulled his mask all the way down below his chin. [The teacher] stated she believed [the student] was trying to “excite” her as he typically acts in such a manner,” the reports said.
After that, the teacher asked him about wearing his mask improperly. The student said he hated masks and couldn’t breathe properly. The teacher told police that she often jokes with her students, and at that point joked that if he didn’t wear his mask properly, she’d have to tape it. The student immediately challenged her to “do it”, turning around and asking her to tape on his mask, the reports said.
The teacher put a small piece of clear classroom tape on the front of his mask, both the student and the classroom laughed, and then she immediately took it off and threw the tape in the garbage. At that point, the student put his mask on properly and the class resumed as normal. No one was mad or angry, the teacher said, and the student did not leave the classroom and administrators did not get involved.
A teacher from across the hallway was in the classroom helping at the time, reports say. They didn’t directly see her put tape on the student’s mask, but did look up afterwards and saw something shiny on the mask.
Family told police they were planning protest, contacting lawyers and investigators
When police talked to the student involved at his home the day after the incident happened, the student told them his teacher had wrapped “tape around his head” about five times.
“[The student] told [the teacher] he could not breathe and pulled his mask down,” the reports said. After a back-and-forth between the teacher and the student, the student told police “[The teacher] said she was sick of the matter” and used yellowish or clear tape to “wrap around his head while he was wearing the mask.”
While both teachers who were in the classroom said the student was never sent to an administrator’s office during the incident, the student told police he was sent to the front office to call his parents, and spent the next classroom period in an assistant principal’s office.
During the interview, police said both the student and other people whose names are redacted from reports, “would begin to speak into the conversation without being asked questions.”
A person whose name was redacted said he had contacted multiple news stations, two attorneys, and wanted to both press full charges and hire a private investigator. They also said “his next step would be to start a protest down at the school.”
Police saw photos showing a red mark on the back of the student’s neck, which police said showed a “slight redness” but did not have a distinctive pattern to it or show any signs of missing hair.
After the interview was over, police informed the family they didn’t see any evidence of a crime, and that two teachers’ accounts differed from what the student had just told them.
What video says happened: Student never went to office, administrators after incident
Police reviewed school hall footage, and saw the student leave the classroom at about 10:15am, go to the bathroom for a couple of minutes, then return to the classroom at 10:18am.
“He appeared to be walking normally and did not appear to be obviously emotional or disturbed,” the reports said. The incident was supposed to have happened between 9:41 and 10:23 that morning, reports said, during the third period of the day.
Footage of the office that the student said he went to after the incident at no point showed the student walk in or out of the office, the reports said.
“I also confirmed with administrators and office staff who stated this issue was not brought to their attention,” the reporting officer stated. “I was also told that [the student] was never seen in the office area or placed in an assistant principal’s office while being denied the ability to call his parents.”
What other students, witnesses say happened: Teacher used tape as a joke
People who were in the room at the time and interviewed two days later by the school resource officer differ on their descriptions of how much or where tape was used, but multiple people say the incident was a joke where the student was laughing and took the tape off immediately after it happened.
A few didn’t see it happen at all, the reports said.
One student, whose name is redacted, said he saw the student in question not wearing his mask, the teacher asked him to wear it correctly, and the student replied that he didn’t want to wear it and started to take it off.
At that point, the other student said the teacher put a piece of clear tape on the student’s back neck and another piece of tape on the top part of the mask.
Another person interviewed called it “ten feet” of tape that was wrapped around the student’s face and then taken off. Another said “most students” were wearing their masks incorrectly when the incident happened.
The teacher had asked the student in question to wear his mask correctly “numerous” times, another person said, and that the student was “laughing about being taped and he took the tape off himself.” It was taken off immediately after, and started with the student saying “he bet” she wouldn’t put it on him.
What happened next
In the days following the incident, story details continued to change as family talked to various news outlets. The family told reporters at WKOW-TV that their son’s mask had been “duct-taped” to his face, and they were planning a protest. They told another outlet, The Gateway Pundit, that the teacher had forced the student to stay in the classroom and “locked the door”. (The Harvard Journal of Law and Technology describes the “Gateway Pundit” as an outlet primarily propagating “fake news”.)
Police closed the investigation without evidence of any abuse.
“Our investigation shows that there was an incident regarding mask wearing in the classroom. We have interviewed the two teachers and all of the students who were present. The information we have obtained shows that there were no violations of local ordinances or state law,” Police chief Andre Sayles said at the time in a statement.
Now, as a protest is scheduled for Friday afternoon, Beloit police are actively investigating threats against school staff. Last week, the school said staff were receiving racist messages about the incident.
“We have zero tolerance for hate speech, violence or threats made against our staff and District,” Superintendent Dan Keyser said in a statement. “We are cooperating with the City of Beloit Police Department in investigating these threats made against our staff and District.”
*News 3 has made the decision not to name the teacher in this incident, because 1) she has not been arrested, punished, or charged with any crime, and 2) staff at the school, potentially including her, are receiving racist threats.
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