USD 383 Board of Education, Dec. 7, 2017

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board held a discussion about the MHS mascot.  Marcia Rozell, board president, began the discussion by saying she was thankful for how the public input forum had gone on Nov. 30.

Dave Colburn started the discussion by saying the board was stuck in the middle of a national debate, and they can’t solve all of it, but maybe the board can do something locally.  He said that advocates for re-imaging the mascot are not all KSU faculty, as had been claimed by some, and he said he had received many email from a variety of people who supported change.  He said he was disappointed by some who have implied that a future bond issue would be held hostage if a mascot vote didn’t go the right way, meaning people have said they won’t support a future bond election if the mascot is retired.  Mr. Colburn said it would be wrong to hold hostage a bond election, which may not come up for some time and may be a different board of education by then.  He commented that student safety and suicides are a major concern.  He said that there are two ways that people are looking at the issue:  advocates for retaining the mascot have a micro view and only see Coach Prentup, who the Indian mascot is claimed to honor, and advocates for re-imaging see the macro view and the larger problems with stereotypes.  He said we need to come out of this united for our kids’ sake, and we’ve seen on the national level that a vote alone doesn’t solve division.  Mr. Colburn said he can’t support changing the mascot because of the costs associated with doing so, because we don’t know what would replace it, and because he thinks there’s a responsibility to honor Coach Prentup.  But, he said he also can’t support the status quo and said many people have contacted him urging the board to find the middle ground.  Mr. Colburn proposed establishing a committee that would include students and administrators that would be charged with four tasks as follows:  1. To figure out a better way to honor Frank Prentup; 2. To create an educational program to know more about Native American culture; 3. To consider a mascot that kids can have fun with that has nothing to do with the Indian name and image; and 4. To determine what would be the true costs to change the name and the image and what the timeline might be.  He concluded by saying the Indian name and image have to be retained, and the school district can be a model for the whole country with people coming together to work on the issue.

Aaron Estabrook had talked to Native Americans on both sides of the issue and was surprised with how willing they are to work on a solution, and he thought maybe the board had missed a step by not doing more with Native Americans.  He said he found it hard to vote on the issue when he doesn’t know what the costs are and when there isn’t a replacement plan for the mascot.  For those who might say that Mr. Colburn’s committee suggestion just pushes the issue further down the path, Mr. Estabrook said the district has had success in the past with committees helping with difficult issues.

Darell Edie said he agreed with Mr. Colburn on several points.  He would like to see a good educational program with Native Americans.  He planned to vote to maintain the mascot because he didn’t want to renege on something again with Native Americans, meaning the commitment to honor Coach Prentup.  He said many Kansas high schools and Haskell Indian Nations University use Indian mascots, and many towns, rivers, and the state itself use Indian words.

Pat Hudgins said she had been asked if she was a “born here,” “raised here,” or a “just lives here,” and thought it was a shame that some want to treat people differently depending on their answer to the question.  People treat you differently depending on the space you occupy.  She said the issue can’t be split down the middle, and the worst time to settle an argument is when people are still emotional about it, which makes the decision tough.  She said social justice cries out as the way to change the world for education.  She’d thought about civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement and said the board needs to make a trip to the Brown v. the Board of Education site in Topeka.  With Brown v. Board, it came about because someone was brave enough to break the mold, and change happens as a series of tiny changes.  Ms. Hudgins had thought about the cost and said things like ADA compliance didn’t change overnight, but there was a deadline to meet, and she thought the change could be phased in slowly without a deadline to meet.  She said “where all can learn” is part of the district’s mission statement, and the mission doesn’t say anything about athletics.  She said that “re-image” to her said to look at it differently — not necessarily retire or change — because things have changed in the 75 years since the Indian mascot was adopted.  She said when she was a little girl, she had been called “Negro,” and there’s something in a name.  They’re asking to not be called the name, and it bothers some such that they can’t learn.  Ms. Hudgins said “re-image” meant to her let’s compromise and figure out a way.  Fifteen years ago when the mascot issue was last formally discussed, the board made promises that didn’t happen, so if the board started a process, she didn’t want to see it die in 5-6 months and expressed a lack of confidence that a committee would work.  She would like to see something named for Coach Prentup to keep the family’s legacy going.  She concluded with saying the board has to find the political courage to make a change for a better tomorrow.

Leah Fliter said the board needs to retire the mascot and the image.  She said she understands why it was created, but it’s no longer appropriate to use an ethnic group as a symbol or mascot, especially when the majority of the student body is not part of the ethnic group and when the group was almost wiped out.  We can’t say the same things about mascots like Vikings, Swedes, devils, etc.  The tomahawk chop and the middle school Papoose mascot were phased out, which shows the mascot is problematic.  She realized that changing the mascot would cause pain to the Prentup family, and she would like to see him honored in some other way.  She would like to see the painting and mosaic installed in a place of honor with a photo of Coach Prentup that would explain how the mascot came to be and why it was changed.  She said she realized the cost to change could be significant, but the change could be phased in with athletic uniforms not being replaced until they were scheduled to be replaced.  Ms. Fliter said the real and emotional costs can’t stand in the way of doing what’s best for students, and that’s why she supported retiring the mascot because retaining it is disrespectful, reduces people to a single image, and tells students that changes can’t be made if they’re difficult or unpopular.

Curt Herrman said the Indian is a symbol and represents how Coach Prentup treated kids, and it isn’t a mascot.  He said the Indian is a tribute to a culture that thrived for thousands of years before the Europeans.  He suggested having an orientation for all students.  He said the district should educate about all minority students and shouldn’t lose sight of other groups.  He said that changing the mascot is way too expensive.  He said the high school would have to change the school colors, too, or otherwise people would still wear their Indian-themed gear, so then we’d have to create a police state at the high school about what students can and can’t wear.  Mr. Herrman said he can’t support changing the mascot.

Mr. Estabrook said he had first been approached about the mascot issue about a year ago, and he said he feels there is good faith on both sides of the issue, and it’s time to make constructive changes, but as a responsible and measured change.  Ms. Rozell said she wanted to keep the name “Indians,” and thought a solution might be the situation with the Chiefs.  She said the board needs to move forward and come to some agreement.

Mr. Estabrook moved that “USD 383 create a committee comprised of stakeholders, including but not limited to students, teachers, administrators, representatives of the re-image and retain committees and others as seen fit by the board for four topics: 1. finding an additional way or ways to honor Frank Prentup; 2. developing a teaching program and plan, which educates our students, faculty/staff, and community about Native American history, religion, and culture; 3. explore the creation of a mascot for students to rally around at sporting events which is distinct from the Indian name and image; and 4. establish what the true cost would be and the timeline if the board decided to retire the mascot; and the Indian name and current image shall remain the official name and image of MHS until the committee completes those tasks.”  Mr. Estabrook said as the four tasks are completed, it would become easier to make change decisions than with the limited information the board has now.

Ms. Rozell agreed that it’s hard to retire the mascot without knowing what it would be replaced with.  Mr. Edie thought the board should first vote on a motion to retain or retire the mascot before voting on Mr. Estabrook’s motion.  Mr. Herrman agreed and said he didn’t want a committee to be part of a motion. Mr. Colburn said he supported Mr. Estabrook’s motion.  Ms. Hudgins said she would like to see a timeline associated with the motion because there could be a new board seated by the time a decision is made.  Ms. Rozell suggested forming the committee in Jan. 2017 with a decision from the committee coming to the board by the end of 2017, and Mr. Edie suggested that the committee could make decisions by Sept. 2017.  Mr. Herrman said he felt the board was just kicking the issue a year down the road and will back to the same place in a year, and he preferred to not have it in a motion in order to have more flexibility.  The board discussed various tweaks to the motion and whether or not to include the committee as part of the motion, and Mr. Colburn said including the committee in the motion is an attempt to codify some of this that wasn’t done when the mascot issue was discussed 15 years ago.

The revised motion as read back by the board clerk stated that “USD 383 create a committee team comprised of stakeholders, including students, teachers, administrators, representatives of the two committees and others as seen fit by the board will work on at least the four topics beginning in Jan. 2017: 1. finding a portion of or an entire facility to name for Frank Prentup along with a scholarship; 2. develop a teaching program for students, faculty, and community about Native American history, religion, and culture; 3. explore the creation of a mascot for students to rally around which is distinct from the Indian name and the image; 4. establish what the true costs would be and what the timeline would look like if the name and image were to be retired; the Indian name and current image shall remain the official name and image of MHS.”  The motion read by the board clerk was slightly different than the original motion, notably the original last lines had read “the Indian name and current image shall remain the official name and image of MHS until the committee completes those tasks” and the version the clerk read had omitted “until the committee completes those tasks.”  The board approved the motion 7-0, but it was unclear the precise language of the motion the board had approved.

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