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School Board rejects mascot policy as Edgewood heads to final vote on ‘Indian’ mascot

Board rejected suggested ban on Native American-inspired mascots

Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School (Image: Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today) (Florida Today 2020)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The Brevard County School Board on Tuesday rejected a policy allowing it to rein in future changes to school mascots, over the objections of board member Matt Susin.

The decision came just two days before Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School is slated for a final vote on a controversial proposal to retire its longtime “Indian” mascot and nickname, according to Florida Today.

At a Tuesday policy workshop, board members instead directed Superintendent Mark Mullins to develop an administrative procedure outlining a set of “minimum expectations” schools must follow.

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A draft procedure presented at the meeting requires principals to convene an inclusive committee to review a proposed mascot change and could require schools to poll staff, students, parents and community members, among other provisions.

Board Vice Chair Matt Susin objected to the move toward an administrative procedure, which leaves the final say on mascots to the superintendent and would allow a change to move forward without input or approval from the School Board.

“By putting it into policy, it’s solid and it has to take board action,” Susin said, calling administrative procedures a “netherworld.”

“We, as School Board members, it’s our responsibility to govern,” he said. “Per statute, it’s our duty, and what we’re about to get into, we want something very strong to be able to go through the process.”

Board members Misty Belford, Katye Campbell, Jennifer Jenkins and Cheryl McDougall shot down the policy route, with Campbell and McDougall citing a reluctance to take the decision out of a school’s hands.

“I have a hard time with that, as a mascot is a community (and) school unifier, and that’s what we want from a mascot,” McDougall said.

The board deflected a suggestion from its newest member Jenkins — spurred by the Edgewood controversy — for an outright ban on Indian and tribal mascots, but asked Mullins to require changes be consistent with the district’s non-discrimination policy, an addition that would help avoid future mascots named after minority groups.

Susin asked to temporarily halt the Edgewood mascot change in September while the board considered formulating a policy, arguing it had the authority to intervene in the process.

Although Susin on Tuesday denied the policy had to do with Edgewood’s proposal, McDougall pointed out the discussion, an off-and-on subject at board meetings for months, was precipitated by Edgewood’s August announcement that it was considering the change after complaints the mascot was racist toward Native Americans.

“There is no denying this is where this started,” she said, before referencing a handout she provided the board on a review of Edgewood yearbooks. “I struggle to see how something like this embraces or honors the Native American culture.”

Students in the 1980s called the school “Injun Country” at sporting events, while a band leader wearing a full war bonnet would lead a rendition of the “Redskin Ramble,” then the school’s fight song, teacher Laura Robbins told Edgewood’s school advisory council in November.

The council will meet Thursday to take a final vote on whether to move forward with the change after punting the decision last November.

The Merritt Island school announced the recommendation to retire its longtime mascot in a letter and social media post on Aug. 27, citing a “great tradition of reverence” for “Florida’s first inhabitants.” The proposal drew mixed reactions, including harsh criticism from some parents and former students.

Hundreds of written public comments submitted in advance of the Sept. 17 and Oct. 15 advisory council meetings showed students, faculty and community members were about evenly split on the change.

The National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s largest Native American rights group, previously weighed in on the recommendation, voicing its long-held opposition to the use of Indian mascots and imagery by schools.