Brown signs bill banning ‘Redskins’ as school mascot

Will Tulare Union High be banned from using Redskins name?

Tulare Union schools Superintendent Sarah Koligian discusses a California bill that would abolish Redskins as a team name or mascot. Tulare Union High School has used the name since 1924.
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Tulare Union schools Superintendent Sarah Koligian discusses a California bill that would abolish Redskins as a team name or mascot. Tulare Union High School has used the name since 1924.

Tulare Union High School and three other schools in or near the San Joaquin Valley lost their fight to keep “Redskin” as the name of their school mascot when Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday signed legislation that outlaws the moniker for all public schools.

Four high schools – Tulare Union, Chowchilla Union High, Gustine High in Merced County and Calaveras High in San Andreas – will be affected. Two schools, Colusa High and Mountain Empire in Pine Valley, changed to the Redhawks.

Click here to read more reaction from Gustine and Chowchilla

The California Racial Mascots Act, authored by Assembly Member Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, will take effect in January 2017, so schools will have time to phase out uniforms and other items bearing the insignia provided they change the name of the mascot.

Tulare Union lobbied to keep its mascot name, and the school had an unlikely ally – the Tule River Tribal Council.

The tribe wrote a letter in support of Tulare Union’s continued use of its mascot, which the school district forwarded to the governor’s office as part of its campaign to retain it.

Cathy Mederos, president of the Tulare Joint Union High School District board, said she is disappointed but the district will move forward and implement a different mascot, though she doesn’t know when exactly that will be.

“The school isn’t just defined by the mascot,” she said. “There’s a long history of academic and athletic success  ...  and that’s not going to change. It’ll continue to be a great school.”

Mederos said the students, administration and community together will decide the new mascot. They haven’t yet looked at possible options.

“It’s not the first time the legislation has been put forward,” she said. “I think we were optimistic that it may not be signed, but at the same time we obviously realized there was a possibility. I can’t say that it was a surprise.”

An earlier attempt at banning the Redskins name failed in 2004 when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.

District Superintendent Sarah Koligian released a statement Sunday afternoon also expressing disappointment with Brown’s decision. But, she said, “We will adhere to the law as it is written.”

Advocates of doing away with the name said the term “Redskins” promotes racist stereotypes of Native American people and culture.

“Native American is the only race used as a mascot. It’s hurtful,” Yaynicut Franco, a member of the Wukchumni tribe in Visalia, told The Bee last month. “It’s a racist term; it’s not an honorable term. This just perpetuates stereotypes of what Native Americans look like.”

Nevertheless, the Tule River Tribal Council at the Tule River Indian Reservation near Porterville said it met Tulare Union officials and supported the school on the issue.

Because the school “uses its mascot as a sign of pride and honor,” the tribe “support(s) the school district’s use of its mascot in this way,” tribal chairman Neil Peyron wrote in the letter.

All four schools highlight the Indian theme in a variety of ways, including on school websites, uniforms and around campus.

The Redskins name has been in use at Tulare Union High since 1924.

In an interview last month, Koligian said the law would impose a significant financial cost on the district.

“Changes to school facilities and uniforms could range anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million in expenses that are currently not in the district’s budget,” she said.

The gym floor has the Redskins name on it, which would have to be replaced, Koligian said. The bill allows replacement of materials and fixtures over time, but those would be dollars not spent on education, she said.

For the past four years, new varsity football uniforms have said Tulare instead of Redskins, but some of the older uniforms still say Redskins and are worn if the uniform’s color scheme is needed that night, Tulare Union athletic director Diana Nalbandian-Hatton said.

She asked all coaches not to purchase new uniforms that say “Redskins” in case the bill became law.