The New York State Education Department has effectively banned the use of most Native American mascots for public schools in the state.
Schools must be in compliance by the end of the 2022-23 school year or face the withholding of state aid, with the exception of districts that receive approval of a mascot from a recognized tribe.
A letter dated Thursday and sent to school districts from the office of James N. Baldwin, senior deputy commissioner for the State Education Department, outlined the decision.
Any use of Native American logos and/or imagery is also no longer allowed without approval. Penalties for schools that don’t comply include removal of school officers in addition to loss of state aid.
For subscribers:82 schools have removed their racist namesakes since 2020. Dozens now honor people of color.
In June, the state Supreme Court in Albany County upheld a ruling from the state Commissioner of Education that held the Cambridge Central School District’s decision to retain its “Indians” mascot and nickname after voting to retire them a month earlier in June of 2021 “inhibited the creation of a safe and supportive environment for all students.”
The State Education Department cited the ruling in its letter. In rejecting the appeal from the Cambridge Central School District, the court pointed to a 2001 memo from former Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills that viewed the use of Native American symbols or mascots as “a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community.”
Nation:US changes names of nearly 650 places with racist Native American women term
Opinion:New Nielsen poll offers hope that we’ll ‘see the end of Native mascots’
New York state’s Dignity for All Students Act prohibits the creation of a hostile environment that could reasonably be expected to cause emotional harm to students.
The decision to drop Native American nicknames
Several schools in New York have retired the use of Native American nicknames in recent years.
In the summer of 2020, the Seneca Nation tribe publicly denounced the use of Native American mascots – which contributed to changes in Schuyler County schools. Odessa-Montour Central School District became the Grizzlies, for example, and Odessa-Montour’s combined teams with Watkins Glen Central School District are now the Schuyler Storm. Watkins Glen kept its “Senecas” nickname but dropped any connection it had to Seneca Nation.
Schools in Westchester County, Rockland County and more have also changed the names of athletic teams to reflect concern the use could be perceived as disrespectful.
However, several schools and districts across the state still use mascots that are directly or indirectly connected to Native American people.
What are tribal land acknowledgments? Native American leaders say words and actions are needed
Canisteo-Greenwood Central School District, in Steuben and Allegany counties, set a Dec. 12 Board of Education meeting to make a recommendation on whether to keep its mascot, which is a nickname considered offensive or insensitive to Native Americans.
And no decision has yet been reached about the future use in Wappingers School District’s Roy C. Ketcham High School in Dutchess County of another mascot considered insensitive.
“This is very, very preliminary at this point,” Wappingers Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dwight Bonk said of the state Education Department directive, explaining the district will both consult with its attorneys and seek more information from the state.
What’s next for districts
The State Education Department is developing regulations to clarify schools’ obligations in dropping Native American mascots and encouraged those schools to seek guidance from districts that have made the transition from Native American mascots.
What’s everyone talking about? Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day
According to the letter from the State Education Department, “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.”
Contributing: Nancy Haggerty, USA TODAY Network New York.
Follow Andrew Legare on Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare.