New York education officials issue guidance about Indigenous team names

·3 min read

New York state education officials have released new guidance about recently enacted regulations that prohibit public schools from using Indigenous team names, logos or mascots.

“Although rebranding might not be easy for communities, the harm that the continued use of team names, mascots, or logos connected to Indigenous peoples has on Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, including students, is well established,” the guidance, published Thursday by the New York State Education Department, says.

The New York State Board of Regents unanimously approved the ban in April, and the regulations went into effect on May 3.

The guidance, which includes background information and addresses frequently asked questions, emphasizes that the responsibility for compliance is on local school boards, which must commit to the process in a resolution by the end of June and remove prohibited elements by the end of June 2025.

If a district does not comply, individuals can contact the state education department, submit an appeal to the commissioner, or petition to remove school officers, the guidance says. The education department can take action against districts that refuse to make necessary changes, including by removing school officers or withholding state aid, which the guidance describes as “a last resort.”

Details about prohibited Indigenous content

The department’s guidance says that mascots, logos and team names that include “any connection” to Indigenous peoples are prohibited. That includes symbols such as feathers, spears, tomahawks and Indigenous clothing.

The education department specifies that trophies and other legacy items do not need to be changed or removed, although it encourages schools to “contextualize them.” However, school employees will be banned from wearing clothing with an Indigenous mascot, logo, or team name that has been retired from any New York school.

Schools may keep their team name if they never used Indigenous imagery, according to the guidance. However, if a team has ever used Indigenous imagery with the team name, the name must also be changed.

“Although some imagery and other aspects of the connection between a team’s name and Indigenous Nations or individuals may have been changed, removed, or used within a broader context, the connection, connotations, and history of these practices remain associated with the use of team names that have or have had connections to Indigenous nations or peoples,” the guidance says.

Previously, one school district on Long Island indicated it would change its logo – which included a representation of a Native American figure – in compliance with the regulations but intended to keep the associated team name, “the Warriors.” In an April statement, Wantagh Union Free School District said the “Warriors” name, “is not synonymous only with or indicative of the indigenous people and the [Board of Education] is confident that we can effectively rebrand it.” The district cited another New York district that also uses the “Warrior” name – but with imagery of a Greek figure – which will be allowed to retain its name.

In a Friday statement following the issuance of the education department’s guidance, the Wantagh district reiterated its intent to change its logo, but maintained that “the district’s Warrior name is not in violation of the new regulation that was established by the Board of Regents.” The statement said the district would continue communicating with the education department in an effort to keep the team name.

Some districts have raised concerns about the costs associated with rebranding. The department’s guidance states that state aid is available to subsidize some expenses and additional funding can be requested through the district’s budget and other processes.

The guidance also says that the commissioner of education can grant an extension of the June 2025 deadline if districts can prove good faith compliance, in part by showing that approximately 75% of the process has been completed.

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