The scheduled working meeting with the Teton School Board on Tuesday found community members angry and upset over the board’s July 16 decision to retire the Teton High School mascot.
School board chairperson Chris Issacson worked to keep the meeting on track where the board hoped to create some next steps toward implementing the 4-1 decision which retires the Redskin name and removes the name from the high school without the use of taxpayer funds.
Members of the community pushed back on the school board asking that the board reinstate the name because the community was an “emotional wreck.” Community members who wore “Save the Redskins” t-shirts, questioned the board on their decision singling out board members, specifically school board member Mary Mello who made the motion in the July 16 meeting which earned the support of three other board members to retire the name.
“What facts do you guys have that this name has harmed our children,” questioned Lori Hillman at the meeting after Mello worked to explain how a school board has the authority to make a decision on a school mascot.
Mello explained that based on local and state guidelines, school board members had the authority to make decisions to protect the welfare of students.
“All of these things can be debunked,” continued Hillman. “Where are the facts? We want to know.”
Mello refused to engage in the impending argument.
Two hours into the meeting, Jade Walton submitted a petition to the board which asked that the board re-instate the Redskin mascot. The four-page complaint ultimately asked that the school board reinstate the name with, “new standardized Native cultural education to recognize the objective and positive nature of Redskins,” and “requests a temporary hold on the motion to retire the Redskin name so as to not allow the school board to move ahead with changes until this is resolved.”
The board eventually instructed Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme to meet with school administration to devise a plan for the first day of school. At the end of the meeting the board set another working meeting for Monday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Driggs Elementary School where the board will hear a presentation on the administration’s plan for the first day of school in light of the board’s decision to retire the mascot.
During the meeting, the board sought to suss out a plan to move the decision forward taking suggestions from community members some of whom asked the board to plan a four-year Redskin retirement plan, others suggesting that elementary school children make the next choice for a mascot and still others who said the decision was wrong and should be reversed.
Issacson sought to draw out the idea of establishing committees to move the process forward. When suggestions to add members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe to community committees was made, people in the audience cried out “No.”
Members of the Save the Redskins present at the meeting criticized the board for taking into account the public testimony of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes who have actively participated in local events and meetings asking the school board to retire the Redskin name. In June, the tribes asked the state to consider doing away with state-wide uses of Native Americans as mascots in all public schools.
The tribes were not represented at Tuesday’s meeting while community members commented that the feelings of tribal leadership did not reflect the opinion of the word Redskin as it related to the entire tribe. Community members said it was illegal for the board to consider the perspective of the tribes who they viewed as a political special interest group to which another community member countered that the tribes were a race of people.
School board member Ben Kearsley was the lone dissenting vote on the board at the July 16 meeting. At Tuesday’s meeting he pushed for the board to work much slower at implementing the change at the high school asking that the board focus on “fixing feelings” in the community and on the need to start the first the day of school where staff and students would be emotionally supported specifically because of the board’s mascot decision.
Kearsley also asked how the change would be made without using staff resources and time which require money when the board committed to not using taxpayer funds.
Mello reviewed the board’s original motion which stated that the board would not use taxpayer funds to remove the Redskin name from the high school.
School board member Jake Kunz cautioned that the board was getting into the weeds on details. He agreed that the process needed to slow down.
“I don’t know if we need to decide tonight if the 2019-2020 seniors are Redskins.” said Kunz. “Bring us a plan for the first day of school.”