They say that breaking up is hard to do, but deciding whether that’s the right thing to do just might be even harder. So, the Katonah-Lewisboro School Board, grappling with the notion of parting ways with its iconic but newly controversial Indian mascot, asked last month for help in reaching this decision, one that is “unlikely to make everybody happy.”
School Superintendent Andrew Selesnick, charged with developing such a process, said at last week’s meeting of the School Board that he may have it ready “as soon as the next meeting,” scheduled for next Thursday, Oct. 17.
Board members at last week’s session renewed their discussion of the icon and, for the first time in the current conversation, heard from some parents on the matter.
Robert (Rob) Cummings of South Salem, one of three parents who addressed the board, sounded a prevailing theme for all of them, declaring, “I support retiring the Indian mascot and all that entails.”
At issue is whether John Jay High School should display, even with proper respect, the image of Native Americans and their culture. It has done just that, say supporters of the logo, paying homage to Chief Katonah for more decades than anybody engaged in this conversation—student, school officials or concerned adult—has been alive to walk the onetime land of the Munsees.
But that’s precisely the point, critics of the iconography contend. Even if such symbolism was once appropriate, they maintain, quite clearly it no longer is. As more than one board member has noted in the current conversation, nobody today would be so insensitive as to adopt such a potentially offensive nickname/icon.
The board’s discussion, only two meetings old, is notable for having been initiated by the trustees themselves. No group of angry residents had appealed to the board, demanding change, and not one Native American, at least this time around, is known to have protested the longtime symbol as a bigoted, racist affront.
Instead, Trustee Terrence Cheng expressed his misgivings at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting, calling the mascot a “very divisive symbol.” His other board members immediately agreed it was an issue that needed to be addressed.
The only trustee not at that meeting, Dr. William Rifkin, supported the board’s reopening the mascot issue. “This is a good time for the conversation,” he said last week, but warned, “I think it’s best that we go into this with our eyes wide open...This is the type of situation unlikely to make everybody happy.”
Any expression of parental unhappiness last week, however, was directed not at the board but rather at the school district’s continued use of Native American symbolism.
South Salem resident Heather Lackey decried a mascot that failed to reflect, she said, “who we are or what our values are or the kind of wonderful community that we have here.”
The mother of two boys at Increase Miller Elementary School, she said of any new iconography, “I just hope that by the time my children reach high school that it can be something that we can be really proud of and we can all rally behind it.”
South Salem resident Jane D. Crimmins, Lewisboro councilwoman, spoke last week simply as the mother of three. Crimmins agreed that the Indian icon has to go, replaced by a symbol selected by students from K-12.
“I think it’s past time,” she said in an email later, “to move on from cultural misappropriation in our schools and public spaces.” Noting the steps taken by two states to ban Indian-related icons in public schools, she wrote, “I’d rather not be the school system that’s forced to change its mascot.”