Southern York County board moves forward with phasing out Native American mascot

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

After nearly four hours of discussion Thursday night, the Southern York County school board took its first step toward transitioning away from the district's Native American logo.

Though there was no official vote, the board agreed to take time at next month's meeting to discuss appointing a transition committee that will work on phasing out the old logo to make room for the district's new designs, which have yet to be approved. 

"As long as we keep this in limbo, we're not progressing," board member Danielle Weaver-Watts said. 

The agreement was preceded by 2½ hours of public testimony that was mainly centered around the old mascot. Thirty people spoke to the board about the subject — 15 requesting the board resurrect the old logo, and 15 asking them to keep the logo retired. 

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The board voted 7-2 last April to retire the logo following calls for the district to change it amid nationwide criticism of depictions of Native Americans in mascots. At that time, the board clarified that it did not plan to  remove the logo right away but instead would direct a group of students to design a new logo and would gradually phase out the old one. 

After that, the board remained mostly silent on the issue, only occasionally hearing updates from a group of Susquehannock High School students and staff tasked with designing the new logo. 

At a January meeting, students unveiled two new logo designs: One that would serve as the district's main logo for athletic events and another representing the district's academics.

Southern York County School District athletic logo design.
Southern York County School District's academic logo.

At the same meeting, new board member Marylee Hall — backed by fellow new board member Mike Wolford — requested the board consider bringing the old mascot out of retirement. Before they were voted on to the board, both Hall and Wolford strongly advocated against retiring the logo. 

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“It might be offensive to people, but it’s not racist," Wolford said Thursday, wearing a T-shirt bearing the old logo. 

Of the 15 people who pushed for resurrecting the logo, several criticized the students' new designs, saying that two logos wasn't consistent and that an arrow as part of the athletic logo still depicted Native American imagery. 

"Not to demean any hard work that went into it," said one resident. "But to me, the 'W' looks like a man laying on his back with his feet up in the air looking between his legs."

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In contrast, the 15 people supporting the logo's retirement praised the designs, describing them as sleek and modern. Several also said ignoring the new logos in favor of resurrecting the old logo was disrespectful to the students' work. 

"What a slap in the face of the students that some adults in the room want to go backwards instead of forward," said former board member Deborah Kalina. 

While many continued to argue the old mascot depicted harmful stereotypes of Native Americans, others said that removing the imagery was racist because it erased Native American history. 

Several people arguing in favor of the old logo criticized the process the district followed that led to its retirement. Specifically, Hall and other attendees alleged that the district did not seek input from the Native American Guardian's Association, or NAGA, a nonprofit that fights to keep Native American mascots. 

Instead, the district consulted with National Congress of American Indians, which several speakers said was a biased organization that tries to silence NAGA. 

Board president Robert Schefter disputed these claims. He said early on in the board's discussions about replacing the logo, the district received a three-page letter from NAGA stating their opinion on the matter. He and other board members researched both organizations before moving forward, Schefter said. 

During the board's discussion, there was a lot of talk about compromise, particularly ways the district could preserve alumni donations and items showcasing the history of Native Americans in the area. This was what led Schefter to propose a transition committee. 

"As part of this transition committee there could be, I hope, serious discussions about compromises to retain some of what is here," Schefter said. 

— Reach Erin Bamer at ebamer@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @ErinBamer.