In a letter to all school districts, the New York State Education Department is requesting that schools with a Native American mascot, team name and/or logos replace them by the end of the 2022-23 school year.
Schools wishing to retain Native American nicknames, logos, or images must have approval from a recognized tribe. If districts fail to comply with the ruling, James N. Baldwin, the department’s senior deputy commissioner, said the penalties include the removal of school officials and the withholding of state aid.
The problem could affect Mohonasen more than other schools in the capital area, as Superintendent Shannon Shine addressed in a letter to parents, faculty/staff and community members.
“While we don’t have a Native American mascot or caricatured images of Native Americans,” Shine wrote, “we do have our logo depicting three Native Americans from the three tribes that make up our name, Mohonaseen: Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca.” , all members of the Iroquois Confederacy.
“At this time, it is unclear what specific changes may be required that could potentially impact our Mohonasen name, our warrior designation, and/or our depiction of the three tribes through our logo.”
The problem originally dates back to 2001, when former Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills issued a memorandum urging the education authorities of schools with Native American mascots, nicknames and logos to replace them “as soon as possible.” Some counties have complied, others have not.
In Thursday’s letter, Baldwin reminded counties how the New York State Supreme Court ruled in June over the Cambridge Central School District’s refusal to change its nickname, logo and mascot to Native Americans after its board of education in the June 2021 had voted for it.
After several school board seats changed hands, the new board voted to reinstate the mascot. A group of concerned parents petitioned the state Department of Education, and Commissioner Betty Rosa upheld the decision to change the mascot. Cambridge again appealed the decision in the state Supreme Court, but that too went in Rosa’s favour.
Baldwin wrote: “Crucially, the court found that the commissioner ‘correctly found that the continued use of the Native American nickname and imagery, given the 20 years that have elapsed since Commissioner Mills’ direction and given the bids of the district’s diversity policy, was itself an abuse of power.’
“Therefore,” Baldwin added, “the court’s decision establishes that public school districts are prohibited from using Native American mascots.” Arguments that community members support the use of such images or that it is “respectful” to Native Americans are no longer tenable.”
Mechanicville Superintendent Kevin Kolakowski, whose school is nicknamed the Red Raiders, said all Native American imagery has been transferred to the district’s academic crest, “which represents our intent and mission and represents, all of our students that our district serves.” , to be fully included. He added that the logo is a block “M,” which was approved by the Board of Education in 2021.
However, Kolakowski sees no need to change the nickname.
“There are a variety of images and logos that represent a Red Raider — the name itself is independent of images, and so we will continue to associate under that independent title,” Kolakowski said.
In a statement, Roberto LoBianco, Niskayuna’s public information specialist, nicknamed the Silver Warriors, praised the state’s Department of Education for its actions.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the District strives to ensure that the words and images we use are consistent with our values and vision of being an equal community of lifelong learners. We will review the SED regulations closely once they are released,” LoBianco said.
David Blanchard, the superintendent of the Schoharie Central School District, nicknamed Indian, said he will work with the school community to determine how to proceed in a positive way.
Calls to Fonda-Fultonville [Braves] and still water [Warriors] School districts were not returned. Other Capital Region school districts affected include the Ravena Indians, Glens Falls Indians, Corinth Tomahawks, Hoosic Valley Indians and Averill Park Warriors.
Nationally, schools and teams have moved away from Native American nicknames, logos, and images. Nationally, Washington’s football team is now known as the Commanders, while Cleveland’s baseball team transitioned from the Indians to the Guardians. Locally, Siena switched from the Indians to the Saints in 1989. The Canajoharie Central School District changed its nickname to the Cougars in 2002.
Chad Arnold, Shenandoah Briere, Ted Remsnyder, and Adam Shinder contributed to this report.