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NYSED directs all schools to drop Native American mascots

Nov 21, 2022 1:00 am

Kathleen Moore reports for the Times Union that every school district in the state of New York with a team name, logo, or mascot referring to Native Americans must change it by June 30, 2023, unless they have permission from a recognized tribe, the state Education Department said in a memo released November 17. The announcement was emailed to all districts and made public via Twitter and is expected to force changes in dozens of New York school districts. “Should a district fail to affirmatively commit to replacing its Native American team name, logo, and/or imagery by the end of the 2022-23 school year, it may be in willful violation of the Dignity Act. The penalties for such a violation include the removal of school officers and the withholding of state aid,” state Deputy Education Commissioner James Baldwin wrote. The deputy commissioner commended districts that have voluntarily dropped their mascots over the years and directed others to reach out to the education department for advice on how to change their mascot. Andrea Macko writes in Porcupine Soup that the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District is still using its longtime Indian mascot. In response to the NYSED memo, the district stated, “Our RCS community will be discussing the implications of this memo and how we proceed. We anticipate that NYSED will be distributing additional information concerning this matter.” It has been more than a year since the Coxsackie-Athens Board of Education voted to retire its longtime Indian mascot. The decision was controversial with hundreds of community members and parents speaking out both in support and in opposition to the change. The district ultimately rebranded itself as the Riverhawks. According to the Times Union, in the Capital Region, 12 school districts will have to change their nickname, mascot imagery, or both. It was not clear why the announcement was made at this time, but Baldwin cited a June 22 court decision that upheld state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa’s order to retire the Cambridge Central School District mascot. In that decision, acting state Supreme Court Justice Sara McGinty cited a directive issued in 2001 by then-Commissioner of Education Richard Mills. In that memo, Mills wrote, “the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students.” He told school boards 21 years ago to “end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical.” Read more about this story in the Times Union.