State board issues 'strong recommendation' for Kansas districts to retire American Indian mascots
The Kansas State Board of Education voted Thursday to make a "strong recommendation" that school districts in Kansas retire the use of American Indian mascots and imagery, mirroring moves in other states nationally over the last decade.
School officials are not bound by the measure and accreditation will not hinge on compliance, officials said, though the measure still engendered significant debate.
The item came out of recommendations from a group charged with addressing deficiencies in how American Indian tribes are portrayed in Kansas education, as well as achievement gaps for native youth. The committee was formed after Education Commissioner Randy Watson made disparaging comments toward Native Americans in February.
Chaired by Alex Red Corn, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Kansas State University and a member of the Osage Nation, the group's proposal echoes similar recommendations from the Governor's Taskforce on Racial Equity and Justice last year.
More:Board likely to push Kansas schools to remove American Indian mascots, other offensive imagery
The council's recommendation relied on the research of several state and national-level groups, including the American Psychological Association, urging schools to ditch racist mascots, symbols and images.
Locally, the Kansas Association for Native American Education passed a resolution condemning the practice in 1998 and reaffirmed the statement in 2018.
Board Member Jim McNiece, R-Wichita, said he thought it was important that the board, as top education policymakers in Kansas, should take a leadership role on the issue.
"You came to us very politely and said 'this is offensive, this is something we would like to see changed,'" McNiece said. "When I find something I am doing, regardless of my intent, that it is harming or demeaning someone, I think it is appropriate that we take the position that we change."
While Red Corn acknowledged that similar policies in other states have not necessarily prompted districts to find new mascots, he said it has prompted fruitful conversations.
More:How can Kansas schools improve Native American education? Start by teaching it, advocates say.
"This is really the start of our work," he told the board. "This is the start of the dialogue; this is the initiation of the dialogue where people really start to learn about these things."
Board Member Michelle Dombrosky, R-Olathe, was the lone member who voted no, though two members, Ben Jones, R-Sterling, and Jean Clifford, R-Garden City, abstained on the vote.
Dombrosky recounted a conversation she said with a Native resident who felt the issue was not something the state board should be wading into.
She said the board needed to do more to build relationships with schools that have native mascots to help them understand the action.
"I'm having to go out and defend a vote that is only a recommendation," Dombrosky said.
Clifford echoed that sentiment, saying that there is useful information and support available to districts but that the board's vote is too prescriptive.
"The question of mascots and branding is the prerogative of the districts, without the added pressure of the board or the department to influence their local districts," she said.
Over two-dozen schools in Kansas have native mascots, according to documents presented when Atchison Unified School District 409 considered changing their mascot last year. The recommendation says schools should take actions to "retire Indian-themed mascots and branding as soon as possible, but no longer than within the next 3-5 years."
Red Corn said the group had offered guidance to districts that have permission or partnership with a tribe to use a mascot "and are doing substantive education" as part of that work.
More:State racial equity commission advocates eliminating American Indian mascots at Kansas schools
Shawnee Mission School District and Wichita School District voted to change their mascots in 2021, moves affecting high schools in both districts. State education boards in South Dakota and Michigan have made similar recommendations, while state lawmakers in Oregon, Nevada and Maine have banned native mascots.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Board recommends Kansas schools retire Native American mascots