Districts have complied, but Senior Deputy Commissioner James N. Baldwin called out Cambridge Central School District as one of a few that has not complied. Cambridge voted to retire its “Indian” imagery only to reinstate it, which sparked community members to file a legal appeal to Commissioner of Education Dr. Betty A. Rosa, who ruled to continue to retire the imagery. The district went on to appeal to the Supreme Court, where Rosa’s determination was upheld.
“Thus, the court’s decision establishes that public school districts are prohibited from utilizing Native American mascots. Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is ‘respectful’ to Native Americans are no longer tenable,” Baldwin’s memo read. “Should a district fail to affirmatively commit to replacing its Native American team name, logo, and/or imagery by the end of the 2022-23 school year, it may be in willful violation of the Dignity Act. The penalties for such a violation include the removal of school officers and the withholding of State Aid.”
The Dignity Act “seeks to provide the State’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function,” according to the Education Department’s website. It was signed into law in 2010 and has been amended as recently as 2019.
Former Commissioner Richard P. Mills issued a memo in 2001 in an attempt “to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical.” Mills claimed that the presence of Native American imagery could “become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students” at the time.
The Waterloo Central School District and Lyme Central School District are the two most recent districts to retire their Native American mascots.