Four schools in the Shawnee Mission School District will have new mascots by the end of the school year after the district’s board of education voted unanimously last night in favor of a policy that bans what it calls derogatory or offensive mascots.
The change will affect Belinder Elementary, Rushton Elementary, and Shawanoe Elementary Schools, and Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park.
“This is not a recent desire for change … following a Black Lives Matter summer of activism, nor is it about political correctness,” Shawnee Mission North graduate Alisha Vincent told school board members. "There have been people in this community working toward more inclusive indigenous recognition for decades.”
Vincent’s daughter Halley, a sixth grader whose future school would be Shawnee Mission North, has taken a leading role in the push for change.
For months, she collected letters of support from community groups including staff members at Haskell Indian Nations University, Navajo Nation member and Kansas Rep. Christina Haswood and the Kansas City Indian Center, and presented them to the school board.
Under the new policy, mascots must now:
- avoid being derogatory or offensive or making reference toward a person or class of persons based on a protected class;
- be culturally and racially sensitive and appropriate;
- depict individuals with fairness, dignity, and respect;
- not run counter to the district’s mission of creating a fully unified, equitable and inclusive culture.
It will be up to the individual school principals to bring together students, staff, parents and others to decide on a new mascot.
District Superintendent Mike Fulton said, while the selection of the mascot needs to happen by the end of the school year, the change won’t be immediate.
“The actual implementation of the new mascot may vary by school,” he said. “It depends on the nature of how big that change is, and the amount of time it will take to accomplish completing that change.”
In a written statement with Board of Education President Heather Ousley, Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma called the move a first step.
“The time has come to better align our language and our symbols to the values we represent,” he wrote. “Together, we will continue to work toward practices and procedures that treat all peoples with dignity and respect.”
The move was not without opponents. An online petition to keep the Indians as Shawnee Mission North’s mascot, which it has used for 98 years, has nearly 3,000 signatures.
Emmitt Monslow, another Shawnee Mission North alumnus, asked school board members to delay the decision until later.
“My biggest question I have when people are trying to remove names and images of Indians is what do we really get, as Indians, from these changes?” he said. “I know what we lose if we remove the names and images — a seat at the table. … Because after everyone has forgotten Shawnee Mission North Indians, what is the need to educate on who Indians are?”
In November, Neiman Elementary School in Shawnee independently changed its mascot from the Indians to the Foxes. That change was led by the school’s student council and approved by the principal and district assistant superintendent of elementary schools.
Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, said the district’s change is a result of a new push from students coupled with a decades-long effort from Native American organizations in the region.
“We’ve been asking them for years, we’ve been telling them for years,” she said, “and people are finally starting to listen.”