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New York tells schools to drop Native American mascots

Powwow attendee Sonny Hensley holds an anti-mascot button to protest using Indians as mascots for sports teams at the 2003 New Years Eve Sobriety Powwow in Columbus, Ohio.
Mike Simons
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Getty Images
Powwow attendee Sonny Hensley holds an anti-mascot button to protest using Indians as mascots for sports teams at the 2003 New Years Eve Sobriety Powwow in Columbus, Ohio.

School districts across the state of New York are prohibited from using any Native American mascots, team names or logos. And the state's education department is now urging its school comply by the end of the school year — or risk losing state aid.

The prohibition isn't new: The state's former commissioner of education issued a memorandum ending the practice more than two decades ago. And while some school districts retired their mascots almost immediately, others still aren't in compliance today. On Thursday, the education department's senior deputy commissioner sent out a memo to all school districts in the state demanding all school districts take action before the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

"Schools are learning environments; students learn as much through observation of their surroundings as they do from direct instruction," senior deputy commissioner James N. Baldwin wrote in the memo.

Penalties for violating the act, Baldwin warned in the memo, could lead to losing state aid and removing school officials from their positions.

If a school district fails to remove its Native American mascot, then the education department would find it in violation of The Dignity For All Students Act. State legislators passed the measure more than a decade ago to provide "all students in New York public schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment."

An estimated 60 school districts in the state still use a Native American mascot or logo, according to the Times Union. And across the U.S., nearly 2,000 school districts also still feature a Native mascot, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

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Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.