The Putnam Examiner

Mahopac School Trustees Punt on Deciding to Change Mascot

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The Mahopac Board of Education is uncertain how it will handle a directive from the State Education Department to axe its longstanding “Indians” logos.

The Mahopac School District is one of about 2,000 nationwide that still use a Native American as a mascot, but state officials are threatening to withhold state aid for any that may be in “willful violation” of The Dignity For All Students Act.”

“This is another unfunded mandate,” Board of Education President Ben DiLullo remarked during a Dec. 20 work session. “This has teeth. We’re not going to jeopardize the state aid. They have to respect what we want to pick. We will do the right thing.”

The State Education Department has opposed the use of Native American mascots for the last 20 years. In 2001, former Commissioner of Education Richard Mills issued a memorandum that stated “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.”

In a Nov. 17 memo, State Education Department Senior Deputy Commissioner James Baldwin wrote, “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.”

About 60 districts in New York still use a Native American mascot or logo.

“It’s a delicate balance. It’s not an easy decision to make,” said Board of Education Vice President Adam Savino.

Superintendent of Schools Christine Tona explained the Education Department has indicated a district may keep Native American nicknames and/or mascots with the approval of a “federally recognized tribal nation within the state.”

The Education Department is giving school districts until the end of this school year to have a plan in place to replace any “Indians” mascots or nicknames and until the end of the 2024-25 school year to implement it. The state recently announced a 60-day public comment period, beginning Dec. 28, will be held before the Board of Regents votes on the matter in April.

“There are still unanswered questions about this mandate,” Tona said. “The term Indian is broad. It’s not the name of a tribe.”

Trustee Tanner McCracken, a 2017 Mahopac High School graduate, said the public should weigh-in on that matter either informally or formally since “a mascot is supposed to invoke pride in a community.”

“This is something everyone should be voting on,” he said. “How do we honor and recognize what we’re trying to honor and recognize?”



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