WFISD trustees: No mascot election
Wichita Falls ISD trustees listened to several passionate speakers for and against a proposal from a citizens group to hold an election to settle the issue of mascots and colors for the new high schools.
After a closed session of almost four hours, trustees voted 6-0 to adopt a resolution saying they respected the opinions of both sides, but WFISD could not legally hold a special election for mascots.
It was close to 11 p.m. when they confirmed the Wichita Falls Memorial High School Mavericks and the Wichita Falls Legacy High School Leopards will stand as voted on by students.
The new high schools are expected to open for the 2024-2025 school year.
The plan is for Wichita Falls school and Coyotes mascot to retire with the opening of the new high schools and consolidation of the three existing ones.
The district plans to turn Rider and Hirschi high schools into middle schools for the 2025-2026 school year. They are expected to retain their mascots and colors as middle schools.
After the meeting, Dr. Donny Lee, superintendent, said there is a possibility the Coyotes mascot might not disappear from WFISD.
Lee did not have any more information to release publicly at that time.
He said the vote Monday night put the issue of mascots for the new high schools to rest.
"We don't ever expect this issue to creep to the surface again because there's no will for it from any board members anymore,” Lee said after the meeting.
“We're moving forward, we're looking out the windshield and we're looking forward to the great future for our students, for all of our students in Wichita Falls ISD," he said.
Lee also thanked those who came out and spoke at Monday's meeting, saying WFISD officials value their input and the school pride for the WFISD Coyotes and Rider Raiders, which was evident.
"We understand the longstanding tradition that Wichita Falls Coyotes and the Rider Raiders have had," he said.
But a committee including students, parents and community members was formed and submitted options, and the School Board already voted on a list of possible mascots, Lee said.
Trustees have taken action twice to uphold their Dec. 7, 2021, 5-1 vote to send the finalists to students to choose colors and mascots for the new schools.
During a Feb. 22, 2022, meeting, the School Board voted 4-3 against rescinding their December 2021 vote. On Monday, they voted 6-0 on the resolution that also left their 2021 decision standing.
Before Monday's vote, they consulted the district's attorney about the mascot issue in closed session.
The Give Citizens a Voice Election Community Initiative submitted a proposal on March 8 to Lee and School Board President Katherine McGregor, pushing for a WFISD-wide referendum on mascots and colors.
The group, made up of alumni from Old High and Rider High School, raised over $30,000 to pay for the cost of a mascot election.
They suggested putting five choices on a ballot for nicknames and colors for the new high schools: Coyotes, red and black; Huskies, blue and red; Leopards, yellow and blue; Mavericks, red and navy; and Raiders, black and gold.
Others consider those choices satisfactorily settled a year ago when students chose mascots and colors from lists approved by trustees. They want students to go to high school with new mascots not chosen from among the existing high schools.
But a vocal group points to the 132-year history for Wichita Falls High School and the Coyotes, as well as discontent with how the new mascots were chosen. They have been urging trustees to continue high school traditions.
On Monday night, about 17 people ranging widely in age spoke to trustees about mascots. They all had two minutes to speak. Some expressed anger and frustration.
“Today at a time when our school district is in a fight against state takeover, we once again have to deal with this asinine issue over school names and school colors," Penny Rhodes, a supporter of keeping the Leopards and Mavericks mascots, said.
Rhodes said WFISD has kids in danger of flunking, but a community of volunteers and teachers are working hard to help them.
“Where is your concern for the children who are failing?" Rhodes of Wichita Falls said.
If Kirby Middle School students don't perform well enough to lift the campus out of "Improvement Required" status on the upcoming State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, the Texas Education Agency is poised to take over running the district.
Efforts are underway to keep that from happening by boosting students' knowledge and performance on the STAAR test this spring.
About three people giving public comments were WFISD students who bravely took a place behind the podium to speak their minds.
"I’m very excited and thankful for the opportunity to attend a new state-of-the-art high school. However, I believe is important to keep some long steady traditions alive," Maddox Wagoner, a seventh-grader at McNiel Middle School, said.
"Most people might think that us kids don't care about these things, but I'm here to say that just isn't true,” Wagoner said.
He said his family members, including his dad, have shared a tradition of playing soccer for the Rider Raiders, and he hopes to do the same.
“What would be wrong with keeping some traditions like mascots and team colors. Let people keep that attachment and the connection and emotions that come with it," Wagoner said.
David Gray, a member of the Give Citizens a Voice Election Community Initiative, told trustees the process using the School Naming Committee to come up with a short list of possible mascots was faulty, lacked participation and ignored the most popular choices for mascots.
“I believe that the community deserves a legitimate vote in this historic decision. Don't allow the community to be ignored again. You have the power," Gray of Burkburnett said.
He added: "It is a damn shame that the citizens in this community have to go to this kind of lengths to get our elected officials to listen and not be ignored once more. Please restore our faith in this body.”
Jeanette Perry, a Wichitan who served on the School Naming Committee, said she was providing the School Board with information to show the process was fair and legal, and committee members' suggestions were deliberated on whether they were physically present or not at meetings.
Perry said neither the Raiders, Coyotes or Huskies were the No. 1 suggestion from the actual community on lists of possible names.
The current mascots are the Rider Raiders, Old High Coyotes and Hirschi Huskies.
She said the citizens group's proposal is an attempt to buy an election on the part of people with a vested interest in the outcome.
"The attitude is that money buys decisions. Does it?" Perry said to trustees. “Please vote to uphold the decision of the children who will be attending these schools. Their voices matter."
Tuesday morning, the issue did not appear to be put to rest yet for Gray, an Old High alumni and WFISD activist.
He said he will "trust but verify" the decision that they don't have authority to hold an election is the truth. He hopes to get a second opinion on the matter.
Gray said the School Board's policy manual allows trustees to hold an election for a vote on a measure.
"My thought has always been, this was a 'measure' to be voted on," he said.
Trish Choate, enterprise watchdog reporter for the Times Record News, covers education, courts, breaking news and more. Contact her with news tips at email@example.com. Her Twitter handle is @Trishapedia.
This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Mascots top subject at WFISD School Board meeting