Owego Apalachin Schools Required to Change Native American Imaging
It looks like the Owego Apalachin School District is alone in the Southern Tier of public education institutions that will be tasked with finding new imaging for the district under a New York State Education order.
Earlier this month, on November 17, the Education Department informed districts that they have until the end of the school year to comply with a directive to retire the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots.
The D.O.E. memo sent November 17 says “Should a district fail to affirmatively commit to replacing its Native American team name, logo and/or imagery by the end of the 2022-23 school year, it may be in willful violation of the Dignity Act” and could have State Aid withheld and school officers removed.
The memo to the school districts states: "In 2001, former Commission of Education Richard P. Mills issued a memorandum 'conclud[ing] that the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students.' and asked boards of education to stop using Native American mascots as soon as possible."
The S.E.D. commended school districts that have retired their mascots but say other school districts have not complied.
In a letter to the Owego Apalachin school community, district officials noted OACS is one of about 60 school districts across New York State still with a Native American mascot. In fact, the Owego Apalachin schools are "The Indians."
Bob Joseph/WNBF News [file][/caption]
The district told residents: "Since receiving the memo... we have communicated with our legal counsel and New York State Education Department officials for clarification to determine how we will proceed. We will also reach out to the area Tribal Nations with whom we have had dialogue over the years."
When asked for further comment from Superintendent Dr. Corey Green, District public information officer, Luke McEvoy told WNBF News there was no official comment outside the letter sent to the school community until the district moves forward on the issue. McEvoy says the district will keep residents updated on the possible new identity and will engage the community in the process.
McEvoy says the Owego Apalachin School District will follow whatever is required by the Department of Education.
Some other districts in the state affected by the directive complained about a lack of specifics. For example, is the image of an arrowhead, lance with feathers or even one district whose name combines portions of the names of tribes in the Iroquois Nation, in violation of the directive without the consent and blessing of Indigenous communities?
There has also been the argument that the imagery used has been out of respect and paying homage to native populations. The D.O.E. letter, citing Supreme Court action concerning the Cambridge Central School District, which reversed a decision to retire its "Indians" nickname and logo, says: "Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is 'respectful' to Native Americans are not longer tenable."
The Education Department says it is developing regulations that will clarify school districts' options but did not provide any date as to when those regulations would be provided to the districts.
An interesting twist in the case of the Owego Apalachin School District is that it encompasses the Village of Owego, which shares the logo of a Native American man mounted on a horse. Of course, local governments do not fall under the direction of the state education officials.