The Department of Education in New York will halt aid to schools that have Native American team names, mascots, and logos.
According to a memo from Senior Deputy Commissioner James N. Baldwin that was circulated to all Empire State school districts, the department has “consistently opposed” Native American mascots, citing a 2001 memorandum “conclud[ing] that 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.”
While most districts have complied with the memorandum, several have not. Cambridge Central School District initially voted to remove its “Indians” team name but reversed itself with the seating of a new school board member.
According to a court case regarding the district, a judge ruled that the school district not heeding the 2001 memorandum was an “abuse of discretion.” The department’s new memorandum takes that decision to mean that the argument that those mascots are “respectful” is “no longer tenable.”
Failure to comply, the department threatens, can result in “the removal of school officers and the withholding of State Aid.”
“Schools are learning environments; students learn as much through observation of their surroundings as they do from direct instruction,” Baldwin concludes. “In addition to their legal obligations, boards of education that continue to utilize Native American mascots must reflect upon the message their choices convey to students, parents, and their communities.”