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Should mascot changes get a School Board vote?

In an un-televised session, Hillsborough School board members will consider this question Tuesday.
Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively wants to discuss a policy on changing school mascots. [TIMES STAFF | 2015]
Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively wants to discuss a policy on changing school mascots. [TIMES STAFF | 2015]
Published Jul. 12, 2019

The backlash was severe when residents of Hillsborough County learned that some of their schools would no longer have mascots with Native American themes.

And it was severe again when School Board members, saying the community had not been properly consulted, voted to stall the mascot changes.

On Tuesday, the issue will come before the board again.

Just as it was on June 4, when the board voted unanimously to pause the changes at six schools, Tuesday’s discussion will also happen with cameras off. The setting will be a workshop on proposed policies. No votes can be taken at workshops. But board members can signal, through consensus, which policy items they wish to pursue for a public hearing and vote later in the year.

Board member Melissa Snively suggested the mascot item, according to workshop materials that were posted this week on the district website. A new policy would say the following:

“The Board shall, upon recommendation of the Superintendent, approve by vote any proposed new mascot for all elementary, middle and high schools and any proposed change to an existing mascot for any elementary, middle or high school. The superintendent shall develop procedures for the selection of change of mascots to ensure equity, inclusion and transparency.”

The current round of mascot changes at five elementary schools and one middle school happened without a Board vote. The changes were part of a federally funded initiative to promote equity and academic achievement for Hillsborough’s Native American students. As part of that process, a group of Native American parents counseled the district on how best to treat their children with respect at school. The administration handled the matter, and its communications office announced the changes in a news release in May. The document said that “using Native American images and mascots can easily reduce living human beings to the level of a cartoon, caricature or stereotype.”

(Despite that strong language, the Chamberlain High School Chiefs and East Bay High School Indians were protected. As a compromise, the two sides agreed to educational activities and game day rituals that were more historically authentic.)

Snively could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday. Her East Hillsborough district is where the uproar was especially strong, with families at Brandon’s Brooker Elementary launching a petition drive to keep the “Braves” mascot.

In the end, Superintendent Jeff Eakins held firm that the mascots would be changed, a decision that he said was supported by all six principals. Some already are displaying the new mascots on their websites and Twitter sites: Panthers at Forest Hills Elementary, the Sharks at Summerfield, the Rockets at Ruskin.

Others still are displaying the Native Amercan-themed mascots, and Eakins said he would speak with the schools individually to adjust timetables, where appropriate.

This is just one of many proposed policy changes the board will discuss on Tuesday.

Others:

* Formal recognition that teachers should get financial incentives for taking jobs at high needs schools.

* A “food recovery” policy that would direct the student nutrition department to package its surplus food and make it available for families who face food insecurity.

* Detailed rules for extra-curricular activities in which students must practice and train outdoors. These include a mandatory five-minute water and hydration break every 30 minutes, helmets removed during rest time, and a “cooling zone” out of direct sunlight. The area can include ice sponges, cold immersion tubs and other equipment. Drinking water would be available at all times without consequences.



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