Educational presentations approved as part of Turners Falls High School mascot review

  • The Turners Falls Indian mascot displayed at the box office outside the high school’s football field. Recorder file photo

For the Gazette
Published: 10/23/2016 11:02:55 PM

MONTAGUE — The Gill-Montague School Committee has approved additional educational presentations — mostly focusing on the area’s colonial and pre-colonial history — to be included in the high school mascot review process.

Three presentations were suggested in a letter to the committee by school Superintendent Michael Sullivan. Sullivan said the events could serve as a way to help educate the board and the public on the nuances of the controversial topic.

The committee is considering changing the Indians mascot as some people feel it is offensive and inappropriate to reference Native Americans as a mascot. At the same time, many residents and alumni have been defending the Indians mascot, and the committee is setting up a range of programs to give the topic a full airing.

The committee Tuesday added three new presentations:

On the early history of the area, including King Philip’s War between Europeans and natives.

A perspective by Native American representatives.

And one that would include presentations on the importance of the Indians mascot to many in the community and on the district’s restorative justice, mediation training and diversity programs.

The committee agreed to the additional presentations, but did not have to vote on them, because they are already within the parameters of the original review process the committee voted on in September.

The idea is that the School Committee would invite people with specialized knowledge to speak to the school committee to ensure the committee is making an informed decision.

Unlike the public forums also planned, for Oct. 25 and Nov. 15, after the educational presentations the school committee will be free to ask questions. These events would also be open to the public as observers.

Students included

The committee also approved providing the same presentations to students at the high school and the middle school. Those would be either during the school day or right after school. The committee wants to make sure the students are included in the process of reviewing the mascot.

“This is the current student’s mascot and I just think they should have a say,” committee member Valeria Smith said. “I don’t know how I’m going to come down. I want to hear from everybody, including the young people.”

The committee agreed to start the presentations as soon as they can, with possible dates in either November or December.

The rules for the mascot open forums were voted on and finalized at Tuesday’s meeting. They were changed slightly from the draft version the district released on its Facebook page last Friday. The main change was an addition of a stop time for the sign up. Those wishing to speak can sign up starting 30 minutes ahead of the forum and the sign up will be open for one hour.

School board members expressed concerns about what the meetings may look like, but hoped that everyone would keep the forums civil.

School Committee Chairman Michael Langknecht said he did not want a police presence or security at the forums because he wanted the tone to be welcoming to all speakers.

“I don’t want to send the wrong message that we expect people to act poorly, because we really don’t.”

The board agreed to go over ground rules before the forum gets underway so everyone in attendance knows heckling won’t be tolerated.

“I thought about making the point that this is not a trial,” Langknecht said. “Being the loudest, most forceful person in the room isn’t going to win you anything.”

Committee members agreed with the sentiment and the consensus was that if the rules were explained, it should go according to plan.

“When people have their three minutes I want those three minutes to be uninterrupted,” Christina Postera, the committee treasurer, said.

Referendum?

During the meeting the committee also declined to consider a school committee sponsored referendum, and decided instead to continue with the process they have voted on and approved. They had yet to formally address the call for a referendum that was submitted in one of the petitions given to the group.

“We have many issues, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for the public to cherry pick what issues they want to vote on,” Postera said. “They’ve already voted for us as a body that are held to oaths and standards and laws and their participation is welcome in other ways but a referendum is not appropriate for this measure.”

The board agreed that it is not the place of the committee to do a referendum, but that the towns could pursue that if there was sufficient interest.

“It’s important that the community knows we’re on it and we’re going to include everybody,” Langknecht said.

Reach Miranda Davis at 413-772-0261 ext. 280 or mdavis@recorder.com.




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