State files new complaint on use of mascots with the Federal government
The issue of Tecumseh Public Schools’ cherished Indian logo has resurfaced in the wake of a complaint filed by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on February 8.
OCR representative Leslee Fritz notified TPS Supt. Mike McAran of the action in addition to all other K-12 school districts in the state who are represented by a Native American symbol or mascot. In her notice to the superintendents of those districts, including Clinton Community Schools whose team nickname is the Redskins, Fritz stated, “This complaint asks OCR to order an end to the use of American Indian mascots, names, terms, graphics and/or other imagery as a violation of equal protection for primary and secondary students.”
At Monday night’s meeting of the Tecumseh school board, McAran told the trustees that there was no immediate cause for concern. “Just because it’s been filed doesn’t mean it’s going to go anywhere. It just means it’s been filed,” he said.
Board President Ed Tritt said after the meeting that changing the school logo would be a disservice not only to the community but also to the Native American chief that the town is named after. “Half of the streets in Tecumseh are named after Native American tribes,” he said. “Are they going to try and make us change the name of our city and give all of the streets numbers instead of tribe names? That’s an exaggeration, but we have a long heritage of respect for Native Americans.”
This is not the first time that the issue has come before the school. A special commission to examine how Tecumseh’s representation of its logo was convened in 1989. Twenty school district representatives spent two years preparing a report that agreed that no “warlike” images would be included in the logo. Special attention was paid to the appearance of Tecumseh’s Indian and changes were made in conjunction with research by the committee. The report was sent to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and officials there were satisfied, at that time, that Tecumseh was being respectful in its representation of its logo.
Tecumseh schools consulted with Thrun Law Firm, the district’s legal representatives, over the latest complaint by the MDCR and attorneys at the firm advised the district, “Importantly, at this point, OCR has not yet acted upon the complaint, so there is no need for your district to respond at this time.”
McAran said in a later press conference that if legal action were taken against the school district, which he said was unlikely; the board would have to make the decision whether to fight the action in court.
The board and the superintendent do not discount the gravity of the possible charges, which also list 34 other Michigan K-12 districts for showing “alleged discrimination through use of Native American mascots and images.”
The Department of Civil Rights believes use of Native American mascots, as well as imagery, is harmful to students and perpetuates stereotypes and misunderstanding of Native American culture. Fritz, spokesperson for the OCR, said the department is using the complaint as a way to bring the issue to the attention of Michigan school districts, and it is not believed any school districts knowingly have harmful intent with regard to Native American mascots.
Clinton Community Schools addressed the issue within the community regularly from 2008 through 2010. The discussion began with the protest of Elspeth and Kylista Geiger, Native American alumni of Clinton High School, that use of “Redskins” and the imagery of a Native American warrior throughout the district is demoralizing and harmful to Native American students in the district. The community responded to a school district-initiated poll and later to a petition circulated by the Geiger sisters with resounding support of continued use of the Redskin name and mascot for the school district. Clinton Supt. David Pray had no comment about the current complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
School officials from both Tecumseh and Clinton school districts are reluctant to speak about the issue despite the unlikelihood of laws suits, other than to maintain that they do not discriminate against any student on the basis of race, color, or national origin.