Education Statehouse

Passing Grade for Mascot Nondiscrimination Bill

A bill requiring the Vermont Agency of Education to stamp out racist, sexist, and repressive school mascots was approved 5-1 last week by the Senate Education Committee.

Sponsored by Sen. Richard McCormack (D-Windsor), S139 will be up for review by the entire Senate on March 8, when the Senate returns from Town Meeting Week break. 

The bill requires that “the Secretary of Education, in consultation with stakeholder groups including the Vermont School Boards Association, shall develop and, from time to time, update a model nondiscriminatory school branding policy. The policy shall prohibit school branding that directly or indirectly references or stereotypes the likeness, features, symbols, traditions, or other characteristics that are specific to either: (A) the race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity of any person or group of persons; or (B) any person, group of persons, or organization associated with the repression of others.”

If the bill becomes law, a state model mascot policy must be implemented by the Agency of Education by August 1. Local school boards must have complying policies by January 1, 2023. 

S139 was introduced last April 21 by McCormack. WCAX reports that up to two dozen Vermont schools might be impacted by the bill. Schools failing to comply would be banned from participating in inter-school sports for three years. 

Some supporters of Indian names say they honor the courage, hardiness and integrity often attributed to the American Indian. But McCormack doesn’t see it that way.

“It is insulting to be a mascot,” McCormack told WCAX. “The idea of an institution itself, insulting its own students and humiliating its own students, I find unacceptable.” He also questions the Randolph High “Galloping Ghost” mascot: “Where they say it’s not racist at all, it’s a galloping ghost. But it really does kind of look like a Ku Klux Klan member.”

A similar House bill, H641, was introduced in the midst of a bitter back-and-forth battle over whether the Rutland High School mascot/team name should remain “Red Raiders” (perceived as racist and ethnically disparaging) or be changed to “Ravens.” Feb. 9 of last year, the Rutland school board made the switch to ‘Ravens.’ 

But the story doesn’t end there. Angry “Red Raider” supporters lobbied the community and the board, and on Jan. 12 the board reversed itself and restored “Red Raiders” as the school mascot. 

Two days later, H641 – with Rutland Rep. William Notte (D) as lead sponsor – was introduced. It has not progressed out of House Education. 

Guy Page

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