Dear Parents, Faculty and Staff,
It has been a number of weeks since I last updated you regarding the name/logo/mascot situation. I assure you that the lack of news is not due to a lack of interest on my part or the Board of Education, but simply due to the lack of timely clarification from the state.
As you know, in November, the NYS Education Department (NYSED) issued a strongly worded memorandum to school districts regarding the use of Native American mascots (NYSED Memo). Many of the details in the memo were unclear, including the fact that the memo’s subject line only referenced mascots, and Mohonasen does not have a mascot. Following the initial memo, the NYS Board of Regents (NYSBOR) put forward Proposed Regulations which significantly expanded on the term “mascot” and made it clear that the prohibition includes, “the use of Indigenous names, logos, and mascots to represent public schools, including school sports teams.” Given this shift, it became clear that the proposed regulations directly affected Mohonasen and that four items were potentially affected. This includes our name “Mohonasen”, our two logos, one with the three Native American silhouettes and the other an “M” with a spear and feather, and finally our sports team designation as the Warriors.
Thankfully, NYSBOR clarified that names of districts which have connections to Native Americans, such as “Shenendehowa” and “Mohonasen” would be allowed to stay under the proposed new regulations. It appears that our two logos would be prohibited under the proposed regulations, but we don’t have a final confirmation of that, and there remains the possibility of an endorsement or agreement with a recognized Native American group which could allow the logos to remain. Yet the larger question remains: if our two logos are discontinued, would we be able to keep the generic designation as the “Warriors”, since we would then not be connecting the term to any Native American nations, tribes, or groups?
Since the original memo puts forward an end of June deadline for creating a plan to comply with the NYSED directive, we would like an answer to the Warriors question as soon as possible. If the response allows us to keep the Warrior name, then there is less to engage with the community about. If NYSED indicates it has to go, then we would plan to engage with our community stakeholders (parents, alumni, students, faculty/staff, and residents) to gather their input. If this turns out to be the case, timing would be problematic because we would have only a matter of weeks to get stakeholder input before being required to adopt a plan of how to phase out the Warrior designation. Our hope is that the process unfolds in such a way that we have adequate time to fully engage with our community, so that things are not artificially rushed.
In an attempt to avoid a rushed approach, and given that NYSED promised further clarification on this, but has not yet provided any, I recently reached out to the Senior Deputy Commissioner who signed the original memo, Mr. James Baldwin. I specifically asked whether he could confirm that our logos would have to go should we not obtain an official endorsement or agreement. I also asked whether we would be allowed to retain our Warrior designation if our two logos were removed. Unfortunately, he did not provide me answers to either of these questions. He indicated that such answers would be forthcoming, but not until the NYSBOR Proposed Regulations are finalized. They are still in a 60 day public comment period and then the NYSBOR has to meet after that to formally adopt them. It appears that this will take place in April. If you wish, you can send you comments to the NYS Education Department by emailing, email@example.com.
It is frustrating to have an ultimatum delivered to the District, accompanied by proposed regulations over which we have no control, to be given a deadline (the end of June) to come up with a written plan to comply with the directive, and then to be put on hold regarding the Warrior name question. Yet, that is the situation we are faced with at the moment. If the Deputy Senior Commissioner’s comments remain accurate, I may not have useful news on this front until mid to late April at the earliest. Should anything shift in this regard, I will certainly let you know. In the meantime, should you wish to contact me directly to share your thoughts, opinions, or suggestions on any aspect of this situation, please feel free to do so. Email works quite well, as I am then able to track and compile information. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in Service,
Shannon Shine, Superintendent