State says New York public schools must stop using Native American mascots

The New York State Department of Education (NYSDE) on Thursday ordered all public schools in the state to stop using Native American references in team names, logos and mascots by the end of the 2022-23 school year or face penalties.

The order, which was announced in a memo to districts across the state, outlawed the use of Native American-themed imagery in schools as discriminatory.

NYSDE Senior Deputy Commissioner James Baldwin wrote in the memo, “School districts that continue to use Native American team names, logos and/or imagery without current approval from a recognized tribe must come into compliance immediately.”

Schools that fail to comply, Baldwin wrote, would be considered willful violations of New York’s Dignity for All Students Act. “Removing school officials and withholding state aid” results in violations of the Dignity Act, the memo read.

The Dignity Act, signed into law in 2010, was established to provide students with a supportive school environment that was free from discrimination, harassment, intimidation, taunting, and bullying.

The concept of banning Native American mascots in New York is not new. In 2001, the former Commissioner of Education issued a statement that such mascots could become “a hindrance to a safe and nurturing” learning environment. At that time, many school districts complied with the commissioner’s memorandum, but many others did not.

Thursday’s order referenced a decision in a 2021 case that established that “public school districts are prohibited from using Native American mascots.” In that In the case, the Commissioner of Education conducted several studies that supported the ban of Native American mascots and team names.

A 2020 literature review cited by Baldwin’s memo found that the use of these names negatively affected Native communities by reinforcing stereotypes. Similarly, the New York Association of School Psychologists determined that the use of Indigenous imagery harmed both Native and non-Native students.

Currently, there is only one case in which schools can use Native imagery if they have permission from the tribe from which they took their name, as outlined in the memo.

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