Wilmington School Committee Split On Legislation Prohibiting The Use Of Native American Mascots

WILMINGTON, MA — At its most recent meeting, the Wilmington School Committee discussed the use of Native American mascots by Massachusetts schools.

The discussion came about as the Massachusetts Association of School Committees Board of Directors is endorsing proposed legislation (Bill S.294) to ban the use of such mascots. Each school committee, including Wilmington, is sending a delegate to the committee’s Annual Meeting to vote on a resolution to support the legislation. 

In a rare moment of disagreement, the Wilmington School Committee voted 4-2-1 to oppose the resolution.

“Personally, I think the intent of this is good, but it’s a local issue, not a state issue or a school committee association issue,” said member Jesse Fennelly. “It feels almost like an overreach.” 

“It’s difficult to make a decision when it doesn’t apply to us [as the Wildcats],” said member MJ Byrnes. “I don’t personally have a position on this. I want to be mindful to those it impacts and vote yes on it. But I could also vote to take no position on it.”

“I actually feel very strongly about supporting this. To say ‘I don’t really know’ or ‘this doesn’t really affect me’ is dangerous,” said Chair Jennifer Bryson. “This is a real clear issue of racism and equity. For me, taking a stand to absolutely support prohibiting the use of Native American mascots [is important]. Whether or not it affects Wilmington or not, it certainly affects our state and our country.”

Bryson later cited the American Psychological Association’s call for the retirement of all Native American mascots in 2015 due, particularly, to the harmful effects they have on young Native Americans. Learn about their position HERE.

“I agree with Dr. Bryson,” added member Jay Samaha. “If public schools need to be welcoming to all students, when that student has a racist mascot, I think that is sending the exact opposite message… You can’t say that you’re an equitable, welcoming school community with a racist mascot.”

“I don’t consider Native American mascots and team names to be, per se, racist and offensive. Some can be, obviously, but I don’t think it’s automatic,” said Vice Chair David Ragsdale, who noted he has a propensity in general against state bans and found it odd that a state named after a Native American tribe with a Native American on its state seal would try to prohibit all schools from using a Native American mascot.

“I think there are certainly mascots and logos that are racist, but I don’t know that all of them — across the state — represent that,” added member Melissa Plowman. “I also have concerns about state mandates.”

The motion to approve the resolution failed 2-4-1, with Bryson and Samaha in favor; Ragsdale, Plowman, Fennelly and Newhouse in opposition; and Byrnes taking no position.  

The full text of the resolution is below:

RESOLUTION 9: PROHIBITING THE USE OF NATIVE AMERICAN MASCOTS
(Sponsored by the MASC Board of Directors)

WHEREAS the Massachusetts Association of School Committees passed a resolution last year resolving that all school districts in the Commonwealth should guarantee that racist practices be eradicated, and diversity, equity and inclusion be embedded and practiced for our students, families, faculty and staff; and

WHEREAS the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools in 2001, stating that “the stereotyping of any racial, ethnic, religious or other groups when promoted by our public educational institutions, teach all students that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable, a dangerous lesson in a diverse society;” and

WHEREAS the American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of Native American mascots, logos and nicknames back in 2005, citing research showing that the use of Native American mascots (a) undermines the educational experiences of members of all communities; (b) creates a racially hostile learning environment for all students; (c) has a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children; and (d) undermines the ability of American Indian Nations to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Massachusetts Association of School Committees support legislation calling for regulations prohibiting public schools from using an athletic team name, logo, or mascot which names, refers to, represents, or is associated with Native Americans, including aspects of Native American cultures and specific Native American tribes.*

Current Bill: S.294
*Regulations would not prohibit a Native American tribe, as identified by the Commission on Indian Affairs, located within the boundaries of the Commonwealth, from choosing to use a Native-related name or logo for a sports team comprised of its tribal members, including a tribal school or intramural league, or from that tribal nation giving explicit consent for a school to use their particular tribal name.

UPDATE: School Committee member MJ Byrnes represented Wilmington at the Massachusetts Association of School Committee’s Annual Meeting on November 6, 2021. The resolution DID pass with a majority of school committees present voting in favor.

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