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Public comment on mascots runs through Feb. 28

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The public comment period on the decision to ban Native American team names, mascots and imagery will conclude Feb. 28. Photo courtesy of RCS School District

RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — New Yorkers have until Feb. 28 to submit comments on the State Education Department regulation requiring school districts to retire Native American team names, mascots and imagery.

The Education Department on Nov. 17 issued a memo mandating that districts drop mascots of this nature — such as the RCS Indians — and threatened the loss of state funding for districts that decline to make the switch.

For RCS, lost state aid would amount to roughly $26 million.

Districts that do not comply would also see the removal of school officers.

Residents who would like to have input into the state’s decision have until Feb. 28 to submit comments about the Education Department’s decision to the Board of Regents.

“On Dec. 1, the State Education Department issued a follow-up memo concerning proposed amendments to the regulations of the Commissioner of Education,” according to a statement from the RCS district. “There is a 60-day comment period on these proposed amendments.”

Anyone wishing to submit comments can do so to: Christina Coughlin, Assistant Commissioner, NYS Education Department, 89 Washington Ave., Room 1078 EBA, Albany, NY 12234. The department can be reached at 518-474-7206. Comments can also be submitted by email to REGCOMMENTS@nysed.gov.

The RCS district intends to change the team name and mascot as required by the state, District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey said at the January meeting of the board of education. The district is planning on compiling a committee to address the issue after additional information is provided by the state.

“RCS will be forming a diverse committee of community and school members to discuss the change process once the State Education Department has issued further guidance,” according to a statement on the district’s website.

According to the Education Department’s Dec. 1 memo, the prohibition of the use of Indigenous names and imagery falls under the state statute, “Dignity for All Students Act.”

Back in 2001, the state voiced opposition to the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots. Some schools statewide complied over the ensuing years while others have not made the switch.

The issue reared its head again after the board of education in the Cambridge Central School District — also dubbed the “Indians” — initially planned to retire the school mascot. But the following month, after a new member joined the board, the decision was reversed.

That set off a chain of events and court cases that led to the current prohibition on Native American names and imagery.

The public comment period on the state’s decision opened Dec. 28 and will conclude Feb. 28.

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