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Vt. bill takes aim at controversial mascots and imagery in public schools

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 6:32 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Controversial school mascots have divided Vermont communities. Now, a bill in the Legislature could force schools to abandon a whole range of mascots, nicknames, and imagery in the name of protecting students.

“It is insulting to be a mascot,” said Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor County, the sponsor of a bill that would prohibit public schools from having or adopting a mascot, logo letterhead, or team name that refers to a racial or ethnic group. “The idea of an institution itself, insulting its own students and humiliating its own students, I find unacceptable.”

The measure would ban mascots that refer to a custom or tradition. If a currently used mascot was known as violent or represents a group of people who were known to torture and harm others. “The Randolph Galloping Ghosts -- that’s an interesting one. Where they say it’s not racist at all, it’s a galloping ghost. But it really does kind of look like a Ku Klux Klan member,” McCormack said.

A WCAX examination of current Vermont high school mascots shows more than two dozen schools might be impacted by the bill.

During Tuesday’s Senate Committee on Education, Vermont Principal Association executive director Jay Nichols told lawmakers he prefers leaving it as a local decision. “We worry about this being a potential legislative overstep,” he said.

Nichols says the VPA wants communities to have these discussions and that people often get caught up in talking about what the majority wants or tradition. “If the Legislature wants to make them change their mascots, then we can’t stand in the way of that, that’s fine. We support mascots that are appropriate and inclusive for all of our kids. We don’t want kids being punished for the decisions adults make.”

The bill also calls for any public school not complying within three years to not be eligible to compete in VPA sanctioned events. “It’s not like the kids have a lot of say in that and we just don’t think the kids should be punished in any way,” Nichols said.

The committee ended Tuesday’s discussion saying that the state is looking to move forward with the bill but rethink the athletic suspension component.

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