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Scappoose schools could have to change mascots after all

State Board of Education won't budge on 2012 rule banning Native mascots

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Both Scappoose High School, with its Indians mascot, and Scappoose Middle School, which calls its student body the Warriors, use Native imagery in their school mascots and logos. The Oregon State Board of Education has ordered Native mascots be discontinued by the start of the 2017-18 school year.In what amounted to its rejection of a state law passed last year, the State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday, May 21, to deny a proposed rule change allowing school districts to keep Native mascots and imagery.

Last spring, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill allowing school districts to negotiate agreements with tribes to keep Native mascots, such as the Scappoose High School Indians. The bill was signed into law by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.

However, the law did not explicitly overturn a rule adopted by the board in 2012 banning the use of such mascots. That rule is still scheduled to take effect in July 2017.

The board voted unanimously to reject a recommendation from Oregon Department of Education staff that it amend its 2012 rule to allow school districts to work out agreements with tribes to keep their mascots.

Board member Jerome Colonna asked Cindy Hunt, a policy advisor to the State Board of Education, whether it would be possible to sidestep the 2014 law.

“Is there any possible jurisdiction for us to not implement Senate Bill 1509?” he asked. “Can we take any action that says we choose not to implement, and in place, we vote to do this?”

Hunt affirmed that the board could vote any way it wished. Less than half an hour later, on a motion put forward by Anthony Veliz, it voted to reject the proposed policy.

FILE PHOTO - An image of the Scappoose High School 'Indian' adorns the wall of the school's gymnasium.What happens next is unclear. If the board’s decision is allowed to stand, the Scappoose School District will be forced to abandon its name and mascot of the Scappoose High Indians by the start of the 2017-18 school year. The decision could also affect the Scappoose Middle School mascot, the Warriors. Both schools’ mascot logos depict a Native American character, which is not allowed under the rule set by the board in 2012.

The board could also decide at a later meeting to change its policy, although there appeared to be no appetite last Thursday to allow the continuation of Native mascots in Oregon public schools.

Hunt did note, as did multiple board members at the meeting, that the board’s decision not to implement the 2014 law could set up a political showdown with the Oregon Legislative Assembly.

Board member Charles Martinez said the Legislature could strip the State Board of Education of its authority to decide on the issue, as a bill proposed in the Oregon House of Representatives earlier this year would do.

“It may be reasonable to abdicate that rule back to them, because it’s their dirty work,” Martinez commented.

Colonna said after the vote that he thinks it “sends a message forward” about the board’s intent.

“It’s out of our hands, but I truly believe we did our work and did what we felt was the right way to do it,” said Colonna.

Stephen Jupe, superintendent of the Scappoose School District, said he sees it differently. He called attempts to ban Native mascots “misguided” and suggested the State Board of Education was “deliberately obfuscating” the intent of the law passed last year.

Jupe served on an advisory committee convened to help craft a proposed board policy to deal with the mascot issue. He said he believes that committee’s advice was ignored at last Thursday’s meeting. Moreover, he said, the board’s decision not to set rules for agreements between school districts and tribes on Native mascots scuttled his work with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to find a way for Scappoose schools to keep their mascots.

“I’m dead in the water, and we’re running out of time,” said Jupe.

Jupe said he feels the issue of school names and mascots should be decided locally, not dictated by broad policies.

“The community has to decide, in the end, where we go,” he said.

Even the proposed rule that the State Board of Education voted not to adopt last Thursday likely would have required some changes for Scappoose schools.

The amendment would have required schools to either discontinue mascot logos that depict individuals or change their mascot names to directly refer to the tribe with which they have an agreement. In the case of Scappoose, that would likely be the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which district officials said have been open to allowing the high school to retain the “Indians” name.

The 2012 rule does allow schools to use “Warriors” as a team name if it is not used in concert with Native imagery.

Veliz, who was appointed to the State Board of Education in 2013, said at the meeting that he wanted to uphold the board’s action from three years ago.

The then-chairwoman of the board, Brenda Frank, who is an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribes, also spoke at Thursday’s meeting as a member of the public.

“The evidence that we heard in 2011 and ‘12 has not changed — that empirical studies and the research that has been completed throughout the United States is clear that race-based mascots do nothing to help a student learn or educate themselves,” Frank told the board.

Most of the public testimony — many of it from people who identified themselves as tribal members — was in favor of banning Native mascots. However, tribal councilors from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians spoke up for their Siletz Valley Schools’ right to keep using its mascot, the Warriors.

“The revised legislation still protects the Siletz schools’ mascot term and logo use,” Robert Kentta told the board. He threatened a lawsuit from the tribe if the board fails to provide an exception to its 2012 rule that would allow the schools to keep the moniker.