Superintendent Rushed at by Dad During Graduation Speaks Out

The Wisconsin school district superintendent who was rushed at by an irate father at a high school graduation last month says the incident made him concerned for his safety and the safety of everyone else at the ceremony, and that he spent the rest of the night “looking over (his) shoulder.”

The tense moment between School District of Baraboo Superintendent Rainey Briggs and the parent—identified by authorities as Matthew Eddy—occurred at Baraboo High School’s graduation ceremony on May 31, when Eddy stormed the stage and grabbed Briggs by his arm. Eddy pushed Briggs away before the administrator could shake the hand of Eddy’s daughter, who had been crossing the stage to accept her diploma and was in the process of shaking hands with school district officials. Video footage of the incident went viral in the days following the ceremony and sparked outrage online, with many people calling Eddy’s actions racist, since Eddy is white and Briggs is Black.

Briggs tells TIME that initially, he did not understand what was happening on the stage. He did not recognize Eddy, and did not know why Eddy would interrupt the ceremony. After Eddy grabbed him and said “You’re not touching my f-cking daughter’s hand,” Briggs recalls, he started worrying that Eddy may try to attack him.

“Am I safe right now?” he says he asked himself at that moment. “Are all the other people in this space safe?”

“I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Briggs continues. “I can’t believe that this is happening. The space isn’t safe, but yet and still, I had to carry on with the event.”

“From that point on, for the rest of that night, I’m kind of looking over my shoulder.”

Read More: Superintendent Files Restraining Order Against Dad Who Stormed Stage at Graduation

Eddy has since been issued a criminal citation for disorderly conduct. Briggs was granted a temporary restraining order against Eddy, according to local court records. Briggs also says that the district sent Eddy a letter informing him that he is no longer welcome on any School District of Baraboo properties.

Eddy has not returned TIME’s multiple requests for comment, but a Baraboo Police Department report obtained by TIME reveals a little more information about the possible motive behind Eddy’s actions.

According to the report, Eddy and his daughter “had past issues” with Briggs—who was named superintendent in July 2021—and “dislike him.” Eddy told the school resource officer who responded to the incident that he stormed the stage because he wanted to prevent the superintendent “from having the satisfaction” of shaking his daughter’s hand. (Officials redacted the name of Eddy’s daughter from the police report because she is a minor.)

Briggs tells TIME that he does not know Eddy and has never spoken to him. Three years ago, he and other administrators had an “encounter” with Eddy regarding his daughter, which he believes is the “past issues” that Eddy referred to in his interview with police. Briggs declines to share further details about that encounter, citing student confidentiality. According to the police report, though, Briggs told the investigating officer that Eddy’s daughter had been expelled at one point from Baraboo High School, but added that he does not directly interact with parents when it comes to expulsions.

“I don’t know what the issue is,” Briggs tells TIME. “Matthew Eddy has never indicated to me that there was an issue, nor the student.”

When asked if he believes Eddy’s actions were motivated by racism, Briggs says that he cannot say, but that “the optics don’t look good.” He says that he has not interacted with Eddy personally since the graduation ceremony, and he still does not know why Eddy feels such anger towards him specifically or why Eddy chose that moment to express it.

“Matthew Eddy is the only person that can truly say what his motivations were,” Briggs says. “I don’t want to speak for Matthew Eddy.”

According to the police report, the investigating officer told Eddy after the incident that his actions were “not acceptable” and “could have been handled in a much more appropriate way” that did not disrupt the ceremony for everyone else, including his daughter. When the officer asked Eddy if he was sorry for his actions, Eddy said he was, but only for the sake of his daughter.

The officer said in the report that he believes this was something Eddy had “pre-planned.”

Briggs says the incident with Eddy has caused him “to be a little bit more cognizant” of his surroundings and of his safety. Immediately after the ceremony, Briggs left the school to drive home and called his wife to tell her what happened, who was shocked by the news.

The incident has not only affected him and his family, Briggs says, but also the district community. He says students who should have been celebrating their graduation had this important moment interrupted by Eddy’s actions.

“It created more attention in the community at an event that should have been celebratory of 250 students, even his daughter,” Briggs says. “My heart goes out to his daughter, my heart goes out to the other 250 students.”

“If I could speak to Mr. Eddy, I guess the one question that I would have for him is: Why then? Why not talk to me three years ago?” Briggs continues. “How do you see yourself restoring the situation based on the harm that’s caused to the community?”

Briggs says he wants to emphasize that this incident with Eddy is not representative of the Baraboo community.

“I don’t want this one situation … to have this lasting impact on this community in a way that causes people to not want to be here, that causes people to think that this is the worst community in the country, because it isn’t,” Briggs says. “It’s a very strong community. … There’s a lot of people who care.”

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