Through Native News Online staff
About 60 school districts in upstate New York risk losing state aid if they don’t remove images of Native Americans and namesakes from their mascots or logos by the end of the school year, according to a new memo from James Baldwin, the deputy assistant commissioner by James Baldwin the State Education Office.
The New York State Department of Education has opposed the use of mascots since 2001, when former Education Commissioner Richard Mills issued a memorandum: “Conclud[ing] “The use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving the academic achievement of all students.” memo from 17 Nov
However, some school districts have yet to comply. Among them, the Cambridge Central School District voted to retire its team name, logo and ‘Indians’ mascot in June 2021, but overturned the decision the following month with the election of a new board member. Community members challenged the reversal in an appeal to the Education Commissioner. The commissioner consistent the appeal, a decision upheld by the Albany County Superior Court after Cambridge appealed the commissioner’s decision.
Baldwin wrote that the court’s decision establishes that public school districts are prohibited from using Native American mascots.
“Those school districts that continue to use Native American team names, logos and/or imagery without current approval from a recognized tribe must comply immediately,” he said. “Should they need guidance, districts can contact the districts that have successfully retired their mascots or their local Cooperative Education Services Board of Directors.”
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Failure to comply will be treated as a “willful violation of the Dignity Act” – which prohibits the creation of a hostile environment that causes emotional harm to a student – punishable by removal of school officials and withholding of state aid.
Nearly 2,000 school districts across the country still have a Native American mascot the National Congress of American Indians‘ last count on November 15, 2022. The state Department of Education estimated as of the summer of 2022 that about 60 of these are in New York. Since June, two New York schools have voted to remove “Native American” from their school mascot, according to the Live Database.
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