At its meeting on Tuesday, June 7, the Onteora School Board voted in favor of changing the District mascot from the Indian to the Eagle. The vote was held following a presentation by the Board’s student representative regarding the results of student polls, forums, and other activities the Onteora High School Student Government and the High School’s Human Rights Club conducted over the past year. The most recent survey presented students with four possible new mascots: the Black Bear, the Eagle, the Mountain Lion, and the Thunder. The Eagle emerged as the preferred choice.
Following the student presentation, the Board voted 4-3 to change the meeting agenda to hold a vote on the issue. They then voted 5-2 on the “Motion to change the Onteora Central School District Mascot from the Indian to the Eagle.” The decision to change the discussion item to an action item evolved after listening to Board members during the discussion period. Students had been attending Board meetings and reporting on their various activities on the issue since January.
The mascot controversy in Onteora dates back to 2000. In April 2001, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) issued a position statement urging the retirement of “Indian” sports team mascots, nicknames, and symbols in its public schools. New York State Schools now have the Dignity for All Students Act, which has at its core the mandate to provide a learning environment free of discrimination or harassment.
On behalf of the Board, President Bobbi Schnell offers the following observations on the vote to change the mascot from the Indian to the Eagle:
“The Board recognizes that members of the community have passionately different opinions about the mascot. We understand that many of our students, alumni, and community members feel a deep connection to the Indian. At the same time, we also recognize that many feel a change in the mascot is long overdue.
Unfortunately, this is not the type of issue where a compromise can be reached. Either way, there will be dissatisfaction. As difficult as this issue is, it is the Board of Education’s responsibility to make a decision.
We are inspired by the beauty of the local eagles that live and nest within our district and will take pride in this symbol of strength, integrity, and patriotism.
It is our hope that, despite differences of opinion, we are a community and as we come together for celebration, as well as during adverse times—we remember that kindness, and how we treat each other are what matter most.
The District is developing a plan for the transition. This will include selecting a new Eagle logo, notifying the appropriate athletic associations, and replacing the name/logo on any signage, communications, or other materials which featured the former mascot.
Of Onteora’s 44 sports teams, four currently have uniforms referencing the Indians. Those uniforms will be replaced. All other teams have either “Onteora” and/or the school’s “O” logo on their uniforms. The District will look to other districts that have made mascot changes for recommendations and best practices.”