ITHACA, N.Y.—Groton Central School District is in the process of updating the school’s Native American-inspired logo and mascot in response to a mandate issued by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) last fall.
Groton Central School District contains just Groton High School, middle school and elementary school, which all use the same team names and logos. The current logo was created in reference to the Iroquois Nation’s ideals and values such as sportsmanship, community, collaboration and leadership. It depicts a circle around a “G” with two feathers, and the team name is the “Indians.”
The mandate was published in November 2022 and outlines the department’s expectations for school districts to have a plan of action to remove indigenous imagery by June, the end of the 2022-23 school year.
Margo Martin, the superintendent of the school district, said in an interview the school board is expected to adopt a resolution at either the next board meeting, scheduled for May 22, or the first one in June, to officially set a time frame for switching over logos and the mascot.
The mandate states districts that “fail to affirmatively commit to replacing its Native American team name, logo and/or imagery” by the designated time frame may be in “willful violation” of the state’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and thus, will not receive State Aid. DASA went into effect in July of 2012 with the purpose of ensuring public school students are provided with a nondiscriminatory environment to learn.
Martin and other administrators at Groton have created a timeline for the district’s mascot adoption and logo change, which is available on the district’s website.
The district has prioritized the student’s and community’s involvement in creating and choosing a new mascot and logo. Martin said the students are going to be the ones researching new mascots, with input from the community via a “thought exchange” scheduled for later this month.
To kick off the timeline, Martin invited members of the Onondaga Nation to do a Witness to Injustice Program earlier this month for students, members of the alumni association and the district’s board of education. Martin said it is a two-hour interactive program with the purpose of “helping students and the community understand the ‘why’ behind changing the mascot, and the Onondaga Nation’s take on it.”
“It’s important the kids can understand the importance of the work they are about to undertake,” Martin said. “Our goal is to have this be our students experiencing community action.”
The district is holding a summer program where students will meet to research various ideas that meet the mission and ideals of the district. In addition, students enrolled in a graphic design class have been focusing on logo development, and as part of a project, will present a set of logos to the district’s Board of Education in late Fall of this year. These logos will accompany the new mascot, which will be selected in the Fall 2023. Martin said they anticipate having a new logo by December 2024.
School districts making changes to their names, logos and/or mascots are not receiving any additional state funding to do so. In a statement released at the end of April, NYSED Director of Public Information Keisha Clukey said districts have had 22 years, since 2001, to anticipate this, and therefore, the costs do fall on the districts.
Martin said the Groton District is financially capable of making these changes without government assistance.
“As far as costs,” Martin said, “we’re in a much better position right now than some of our neighboring districts.”
The NYSED has long been in opposition to using Native American mascots and imagery in learning environments. In 2001, former Commissioner of Education, Richard P. Mills issued a memorandum stating “using Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community.” He called for boards of education in the state to “end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical.”
Many school districts in the area, such as Waterloo and Lyme Central School Districts, have already retired their mascots in response to the 2001 directive.