Southern York County to decide on Susquehannock High School mascot in April

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Susquehannock logo on a banner at Susquehannock High School Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

After months of silence, Southern York County School District officials are taking their first steps toward making a decision on Susquehannock High School's warrior mascot. 

The district's education committee discussed the topic Thursday night. The school board will hear a presentation on Thursday, March 25 from an official with the National Congress of American Indians at a special meeting, and the board is scheduled to vote on the issue April 15. 

Officials started discussing the mascot this past year, following calls for the district to change it. It came amid nationwide criticism of Native American mascots, which led the Washington, D.C.'s football team, formerly known as the Redskins, to rebrand.

The debate spurred competing change.org petitions supporting and opposing a change to Southern York's mascot. A petition to remove the high school's mascot gathered 850 signatures, while a petition to keep the mascot gathered 3,814 signatures. 

More:Susquehannock High's use of Warrior mascot sent to diversity committee

The board ultimately prompted the district's diversity committee to research the issue before making a decision. The board has been silent on the subject since then. 

Diversity committee members shared the findings of the research during an education committee meeting Thursday.

The committee did not recommend the district take a specific action on the mascot but did support a survey of students, staff, parents and alumni in early April to gather further feedback on the issue. 

Southern Elementary Principal James Hollinger said he expects the majority of survey participants will want the district to keep the mascot, but he believes it is more important that many will likely say they find the mascot offensive. He said that indicates the mascot is dividing the district community, rather than uniting it. 

"We're claiming to honor somebody who find the way we are honoring them offensive," Hollinger said. "So who are we really honoring?"

The committee found no evidence that members of the Susquehannock tribe lived within the district's boundaries, although there was some evidence that members visited the area. They also found that the district's curriculum does not include much mention of the Susquehannock people, other than a section in the fourth grade. 

Overall, the committee found that the district's coverage of historical perspectives from Native American tribes or other diversity groups is minimal. The committee recommended the district expand its curriculum to reflect more of these perspectives. 

"We realized that we didn't have that plan in place that really made sure that we hit multiple perspectives," director of curriculum and instruction Kimberly Hughes said. 

In addition to researching the district's history and current curriculum, the committee also reached out to Native American leaders to hear their opinions. Among those leaders was Ian Record, vice president of tribal governance and special projects for the National Congress of American Indians. 

Record said that the term "warrior" is not considered offensive unless it is associated with Native American imagery. Southern York's mascot includes a Native American man, a stone ax and a ceremonial pipe.

Record said he believed the district had good intentions with the mascot, but that isn't what matters. There is no evidence of Native American imagery being used as mascots yielding any positive outcomes, he said. 

"Regardless of that intent, (it) contributes to negative psycho-social outcomes," Shrewsbury Elementary Principal Mary Dankosky said.