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January 26, 2013

School mulls dropping 'Redskins' name

By Michelle Miller
The Daily Star

---- — Cooperstown Central School students will soon be polled about whether the school should retain the nickname “Redskins,” which dates to the mid-1920s.

The students will take 10 minutes out of their class time to complete a survey about the nickname, which many Native Americans and others consider to be offensive. The National Football League’s Washington Redskins have faced similar criticism.

Dr. David Borgstom, the district board of education president, said students will take a survey, indicating their preferences for as many as three nicknames among nine offered to them. Keeping the current nickname will be an option, and space will be provided to a suggest a name that is not listed. The most popular choice will be used.

Borgtrom said the student council was called upon to help come up with the alternative names: Coyotes, Deer Slayers, Hawkeyes, Hawks, Hunters, Leatherstockings, Pioneers, Red Hawks and Wolves.

Borgstrom made the announcement to middle and high school students Thursday, following a leadership assembly.

“Why?” Borgstrom asked rhetorically. “Times are changing, and our culture is continuing to evolve. Some of you were witnesses of the inauguration of the second term of the first African-American president in our nation’s history. Locally, we have been through a lot in the past four years. We have put in a lot of effort to recognize change, diversity, cultural sensitivity and character.”

Borgstrom said students have come forward to relate specific conversations with people unfamiliar with the school. When the issue of the school mascot nickname came up, he said, the students said they felt uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Superintendent C.J. Hebert agreed that the district has made significant efforts to recognize cultural changes and diversity. 

“The name really does not coincide with our initiatives and all the work we have been doing with anti-bullying and Dignity for All Students, faculty development and programs such as ‘Habitudes,’” Hebert said. “It is kind of hard to have them side-by-side.”

Borgstrom said he thinks a change is long overdue.

“It has troubled me for some time that we recognize the importance of this education, make a commitment to it, and espouse a need for cultural sensitivity, while supporting a school nickname that is the antithesis of this philosophy,” he said. “What would be the board of education’s response if ever asked to justify our commitment to cultural sensitivity education and the nickname ‘Redskins?’”

This is not the first time the school has considered a change. 

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills sent a letter to school boards in April 2001, asking them to change Indian-related mascots and logos as soon as possible.

“I have concluded that 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 standards for all students,” he wrote in the four-page letter.

The commissioner called upon school officials to notify their communities of the issue and to lead in “a discussion of the right path to take.”

An ad hoc committee was formed by the Cooperstown Board of Education in response to the letter. A public meeting was held to gather public opinion about the continued use of the Redskins image, nickname and mascot. About 30 people turned out for the hearing, but only about 10 spoke, according to The Cooperstown Crier.

The Crier reported in January 2002 that CCS was the only district left in the state still using Redskins as its nickname, according to a list compiled by the state Education Department.

Borgstrom said that although the issue was discussed years ago without any action taken, he thinks culture has evolved and changed, and so must CCS.

“I am convinced the time has come to make a change” he said. “We cannot continue on a path of recognizing the importance of diversity education, and cultural sensitivity and continue to be called the Redskins.”

This is a board of education responsibility that cannot be put aside, Borgstrom said, adding that he recognizes the importance of precedence, history and community ties, but in the context of today, they may have a different importance.

Hebert said he does not think that there are any problems concerning the district’s colors or logo, which features a silhouette of the famous “Indian Hunter” statue by John Quincy Adams Ward in Lake Front Park in Cooperstown.

More details are to be discussed at the district’s next board meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 6.