Local high schools face loss of funding if “Indian” mascots are not replaced

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Roy C. Ketcham High School Athletics logo - with Indian headdress feathers. Photo by WCSD.

ALBANY – Assemblymen Matt Slater (R,C-Yorktown) and Anil Beephan, Jr. (R,C-East Fishkill) have denounced a ruling by the State Department of Education that requires Roy C. Ketcham High School in Wappingers Falls and Mahopac High School, to change their mascots.

Both high schools use an “Indian” as the mascot for their respective schools.  The State Education Department has deemed that the use of an “Indian” as a mascot is offensive and threatened to withhold state funding unless the mascot is replaced.

The two freshman lawmakers wrote a letter to Albany that denounces the decision and the enforcement tactics threatened by the agency.

“The state Education Department has taken a heavy-handed approach to what should be a local decision-making process,” Slater said. “It is a complete overreach by the department. This change should be decided by the school board and the constituents who reside in these communities. They are the most knowledgeable about each school’s history and what mascot or logo would be best for their future success. Most importantly, the cost of the rebranding of the logos and mascots is being forced on the schools. If the state wishes to get involved with this issue, it should pay for the rebranding.”

The State Education Department plans to enforce this change on June 30, with full implementation of the new logo and mascot beginning in 2025. The cost of the rebranding would fall completely on the school districts with no outside assistance from the state.

“While I do not support the state Education Department’s will to eliminate historical imagery, I am even further concerned that it was done unilaterally without the consent of those elected to make these decisions,” Beephan said. “As a former local official who believes in empowering local decisions, I hope the state is prepared to pay for these changes if it is going to supersede the will of our localities.”

The State Education Department has cited the “Dignity Act” to justify the prohibition of an “Indian” or “Indigenous” person as a mascot for a public school in New York.  “The Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act, sometimes referred to as DASA) prohibits “The creation of a hostile environment… that… reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause… emotional harm to a student,” a condition that could be created through the use of Native American mascots,” according to the state.