Houston school district officials, plunging into a national controversy, are considering a policy change that would ban mascot names that might play on racial, ethnic or cultural stereotypes.
Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier is expected to propose a new policy that would require changing the mascots of the Lamar High School Redskins, Hamilton Middle School Indians, Welch Middle School Warriors and Westbury High School Rebels.
Specifically, the proposal would prohibit the use of “any race or ethnic group” as a mascot, nickname or descriptor of any Houston school. Officials said the mascots of Lamar, Hamilton, Welch and Westbury would fall outside the policy.
The issue is scheduled for discussion Monday at a school board review meeting. The board could vote on the change at its regular meeting on Thursday. The new mascots would be in place for the 2014-15 school year, and initial discussions of the transition have begun.
“The time has come for the Houston Independent School District – the most vibrantly diverse school district in the nation – to acknowledge that some decisions made generations ago need to be reconsidered,” [Superintendent Terry] Grier wrote. “Traditions are important. But respect for cultural difference and sensitivities matters more.”
Anna Eastman, the school board president, said the board does not intend to dictate mascot names, but to set guidelines.
The new policy would bar names with inappropriate connotations, Eastman said, adding that it is up to school district administrators to determine which mascots need replacing. Local groups at the schools will then select new mascots where needed.
Eastman said she expects some public comment on the policy change.
“I wouldn’t be surprised. I know that people feel strongly about mascots and school colors,” she said. “I wish we would see the same level of passion to the fact that we have kids who can’t read.”
Good to hear, and I couldn’t agree more with Anna Eastman. Honestly, if anyone gets more than a little upset about this, they need to rethink their priorities.
As the story notes, earlier this week Sen. Rodney Ellis wrote an open letter to Grier asking for something to be done.
On Tuesday, State Senator Rodney Ellis tweeted out a letter he sent to HISD Superintendent, Dr. Terry Grier (view the tweet here). In the letter, Ellis requested the district start a process to change Lamar’s mascot (Redskins) and any other derogatory mascots in HISD.
“I recently met with local Native American leaders, all of whom expressed sincere concern about the use of Lamar’s inflammatory manscot name,” the letter reads.
In an October column by Randy Harvey (click here for the column), Lamar school officials acknowledged the nickname was wrong by disassociating the school from virtually everything about it except the nickname itself.
The actual mascot was eliminated. Any new teams, groups or awards are known simply as Lamar. Drill team members are called Rangerettes.
“I know that the leadership of HISD and Lamar High School do not intend to offend anyone with the mascot’s name, but, simply put, times change,” the letter reads.
As noted, you can see his letter, which is quite congenial, here. I of course agree with him, as does the Chron editorial board, and I applaud him for taking this step. I don’t know if this had a direct effect on the subsequent actions by Grier and the board or not, but either way it’s encouraging.
By the way, I saw this in the Chron’s Sports Update blog, which was their Rice Owls blog when I first subscribed to it. Somewhere along the line, the blog morphed into a catchall sports section news blog, and the feed was redirected. I personally think this story belongs in their Metro section, or at least in the Houston Politics blog, but at least it was somewhere. I’m glad for that little bit of serendipity that allowed me to see it, since I would not have subscribed to that feed on my own.
One last thing from yesterday’s story:
“I’m not sure a change is really necessary,” said Frank Staats, a 1975 Westbury graduate and vice president of the school’s alumni association.
Images of the school’s Rebel mascot have been changed to make any connection to the Civil War barely noticeable, Staats said.
At Lamar, which his daughter attends, Staats said he understands the name is a greater concern. However, “it doesn’t bother the kids, from what I know,” he said.
Staats said in 20 years of alumni participation, he’s never heard a complaint about the Westbury Rebel name from students or alumni.
I suspect that’s because most people don’t really think much about it. If that is the case, then hopefully people will be equally indifferent about the proposed changes.