Pullman & Comley - School Law

Earlier this month, The CABE Journal (see page 11) published a portion of an article by Pullman & Comley attorney Zach Schurin entitled “Native American Mascots: An Emerging Legal Landscape.” The article examines the legal issues that Connecticut schools with Native American team names and mascots should consider.

This is Part 3 and the final portion of the article.  Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here .

Practical Takeaways

The debate over the use of Native American mascots is not going away any time soon.  As the legal landscape continues to evolve it is becoming increasingly clear that school districts that both maintain a Native American mascot or team name and fail to take aggressive and proactive steps to address any incidents of bullying or harassment based on a student – or staff member’s – Native American ancestry are on shaky legal footing.  In this regard, school districts that are committed to maintaining a mascot or team name over community member objections are well-served taking actions that demonstrate their commitment to maintaining a school environment free from discrimination.  Among other actions such districts should consider the following:

  • Retiring outdated logos based on inappropriate or historically inaccurate caricatures in favor of logos that accurately depict any local tribe that the team name/mascot is intended to celebrate;
  • Including instruction on native cultures in the curriculum;
  • Vigilantly enforcing district non-discrimination policies and documenting district efforts to uphold such policies.

While these actions may be helpful in avoiding liability they are not a cure-all.  As the debate over this topic continues, school board members and administrators in districts with Native American mascots and/or team names should closely monitor legal developments in this area and do everything in their power to ensure that their district is a safe and welcoming place for all students.   

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