Bill banning ‘Redskins’ mascot heads to governor’s desk

School officials in Gustine and Chowchilla reacted with a mix of anger and disappointment Friday after California lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill barring schools from using long-standing mascot names that have been criticized as racially insensitive.

The “California Racial Mascots Act” would ban the use of the term “Redskins” as a mascot, nickname or team name for public schools in the state. The measure, Assembly Bill 30, passed out of the Assembly on Thursday on a 54-8 vote. The proposal now heads to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

Four schools in the state use the mascot: Gustine High in Merced County, Chowchilla High in Madera County, Calaveras High in Calaveras County and Tulare Union in Tulare County.

Loretta Rose, a board member for Gustine Unified, has been one of the more outspoken opponents of the bill. She said she hopes Brown refuses to sign it.

“It’s a bunch of malarkey,” Rose said. “I’m very upset with the state. Actions speak much louder than words and there’s never been any actions of anything negative our school is doing.”

As the state with the largest Native American population in the country, we should not continue to allow a racial slur to be used by our public schools.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville

The measured was authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville. Alejo’s press secretary, Michelle Reyes, said supporters are hopeful Brown will sign the bill into law. However, Reyes said Friday, it remains unclear when that may happen.

“We’re optimistic, but obviously that’s entirely up to the governor,” Reyes said.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, and Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, whose district includes Merced County, voted against the bill this week, according to legislative records.

The state Senate approved the measure Tuesday on a 25-10 vote.

Alejo, in a statement issued Thursday, said California “should lead the way and phase out the use of this derogatory term.”

“As the state with the largest Native American population in the country, we should not continue to allow a racial slur to be used by our public schools,” Alejo said in a news release.

He said “current use of the term is widely recognized as a racial slur that promotes discrimination against Native Americans.”

Opponents of the bill, however, said they don’t believe the term is racist or offensive, at least as it has been used by their schools for several generations.

Rose said the school has used the mascot for decades as a “proud tradition that honors” the region’s Native American heritage.

“There’s nothing derogatory about it,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s used with pride in our area which was known for its Native American culture.”

Ron Seals, superintendent of the Chowchilla Union High School District, said the school board is planning community meetings to discuss new mascot names with the public. No dates have been set.

Seals said it is hard to come up with words expressing his feelings about the situation.

“I never thought part of my legacy would be having to change the mascot,” Seals said.

He said he is glad the mascot will still be in place for the school’s 100th anniversary next year and that language in the bill allows the logo to remain on the gym floor and concrete tile mosaic at the football stadium until maintenance or repairs have to be done.

It’s a bunch of malarkey. I’m very upset with the state.

Loretta Rose, Gustine Unified School District board member

Dahkota KickingBear Brown, a California high school student who founded the youth organization Native Education Raising Dedicated Students, said he was “thrilled” the measure passed.

Alejo said he understood concerns raised by the affected schools and “the fear they have in losing their high school identity.”

“But this is a great opportunity to create a new identity for students, schools and communities that inspires joy and pride for all students,” Alejo said. “A mascot is not what defines the school identity, but its community which it belongs to.”

Rose said comparisons between the school mascot and other terms commonly considered demeaning or racist are “not right” and “not fair.”

Elected school officials in Gustine and Chowchilla have criticized the bill, arguing the mascot issue should be decided at the local level.

Chowchilla school officials have estimated the ban would require them to spend nearly $1 million to change mascots, including buying new school uniforms and updating portrayals of the mascot on the wooden gym floor, in the stadium concrete and in murals on campus.

Gustine officials have estimated their potential costs at around $500,000 to make similar changes.

“It’s going to hurt our school district financially. We have only about 15 months to come up with a budget to do all this,” Rose said. “I hope Gov. Brown comes down here to look at our situation before he thinks about signing this. None of the people behind this bill have come to Gustine to see how much pride we have in our (students) and how well they represent our community.”

Amendments to the bill would allow schools to keep old uniforms still bearing the name if they are purchased before 2017, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Los Banos Enterprise reporter Corey Pride contributed to this report.

Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482