NYS Education Dept. orders schools to end use of Native American mascots – WAMC | Team Cansler

On Thursday evening, the New York State Education Department ordered all school districts in the state to remove “Native American” mascots and associated Native American images from the public school system.

The memo, signed by State Education Department Deputy Commissioner James Baldwin, warned, “Districts that continue to use Native American team names, logos and/or imagery without current approval from a recognized tribe must comply immediately.” Baldwin says the memo was not released lightly.

“It’s an issue identified 21 years ago by then-Commissioner Richard Mills in relation to safe and supportive school communities and a focus on respect and academic achievement for all students,” Baldwin said. “This has been an issue here in New York for a long time. Most recently, about a year and a half ago, the current Board of Regents passed a policy encouraging school districts to review their own policies and practices related to diversity issues. Justice and Inclusion. So we’ve gotten to a point where we have about 50 to 60 districts that are still using these mascots, which are offensive and not consistent with the values ​​that we want to reflect in our public schools.

The department says districts that don’t commit to replacing such names and logos by the end of the 2022-23 school year may be violating the Dignity Act. Penalties for such a violation include removal from school officials and withholding of government funds.

The memo cites the ongoing controversy surrounding the Cambridge Central School District — in the metropolitan area of ​​New York — which voted in June 2021 to retire the “Native Americans” team name, logo and mascot, and then reversed the decision a month later , after new school board members met office.

Community members challenged the reversal, and in August, Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said the name and imagery violated state law on the dignity of all students and had to leave. The District of Washington County appealed, but a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that the Commissioner’s decision was valid, and Cambridge was ordered to make the changes by July 1, 2022. The school board then authorized the district attorney to file a notice of appeal.

2007 CCS graduate Dillon Honyoust is an Iroquois, member of the Onondaga beaver clan and lives in the school district. He has campaigned to retain Cambridge Central’s Native American mascot and nickname.

“The name and logo, you know, is a symbol that guides us to the truth,” Honyoust said. “When you think of Native Americans, every symbol you see represents strength, honor and pride. Always a positive symbol to represent the strength of our heritage.”

Honyoust believes the Cambridge Indians name and logo has been a positive symbol in the community for decades.

“If you imagine all names and logos disappearing, gone, what impact will that have on our heritage,” Honyoust asks. “Does this preserve our heritage or does it increase the genocide, the extermination of the Indians?”

According to the state Department of Education, more than 50 school districts in New York still use Native American imagery, including Glens Falls City Schools, which has used the Native American moniker and a red GF in a black arrowhead as its sports logo since 1941. Skye Heritage is the District Communications Director.

“So we have every intention of respecting this NYSED decision,” Heritage said. “And while the order includes a June 2023 deadline to make a specific commitment to replacing the Native American team’s name, logo or imagery, we do not yet have a timeline for the removal of Native American items on our athletic uniforms, our furniture.” and set in our buildings, such as the high school gym.”

John Kane is a Native American activist who attended Cambridge schools from the third grade until he graduated from high school in 1978. In 2020, Kane traveled to Cambridge from his home in western New York to officially request the district to change its name and logo.

“I’m glad that ruling came, I think NYSED had the authority to do this all along,” Kane said. “I’m glad it wouldn’t be relied on, as many had hoped, that Parliament would take action because that process is long and drawn out. I think this clearly ends the fight at Cambridge. And I think it saves a lot of other schools the agony of challenging that debate.”

There is a sentence in the Department of Education memo that says, “Those school districts that continue to use Native American team names, logos and/or imagery without current authorization from a recognized tribe must comply immediately.”

Kane says whatever the case, he doesn’t think Cambridge stands a chance of getting approval from a state-recognized tribe. Baldwin seems to agree.

“This particular phrase is really targeting some school districts that are connected to Native American communities,” Baldwin said. “And in those cases, the tribal government served by those school districts has approved the use of that mascot. This is not to result in school districts seeking tribes to bless their use of such mascots.”

The Cambridge Central School District Board of Education plans to proceed with its appeal against the Commissioner’s decisions and the court case.

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