School Mascots

In this Jan. 29, 2014 photo, a sign outside Mukwonago High School shows the school's old logo, the profile of a Native American in a headdress. The school phased out most uses of the logo during a court battle over the school's Indian nickname. Even though the school prevailed, district officials say resurrecting the logo would only inflame hurt feelings in a community that has finally started to heal.

The Madison School Board is slated to support a resolution on Monday calling for legislation requiring school districts across Wisconsin to stop using Native American mascots.

The resolution, which was started by the Wausau School District, would affect the approximately 31 school districts in the state that currently use a Native American mascot, according to a resolution posted to the Madison School District's website Friday. There are 421 public school districts in Wisconsin.

The resolution will go to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards' policymaking committee and could be voted on by all of the state's school districts at the WASB annual convention in January 2020. 

The resolution states the use of mascots, logos and nicknames depicting Native Americans "establishes an unwelcome, divisive and hostile learning environment for Native American students and affirms negative stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society."

In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for the retirement of Native American mascots across schools and universities, citing a body of research that points to the harm the imagery does to Native American students while also perpetuating derogatory stereotypes to non-Native American students. 

Since 1989, 34 Wisconsin schools have stopped using Native American sports mascots, according to the Herald Times Reporter. A 2018 article by the paper explored the issue, including quoting the superintendent of the Black Hawk School District, one of the 31 districts still using the mascots. 

In 2010, then-Gov. Jim Doyle signed Act 250, a bill that allowed the state Department of Public Instruction to begin a review process if a complaint is received that a school's nickname, mascot or logo is offensive. Under that law, districts had to prove that its mascot or nickname was not offensive if someone filed a complaint. 

Former Gov. Scott Walker signed a new law in 2013 that largely rolled back Act 250, however. Walker said at the time that the previous law infringed on free speech rights. The 2013 law said any complaints filed had to include a petition signed by community members equivalent to 10 percent or more of the school district's student population. 

Act 31 lists requirements for public school districts to provide instruction on the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of Wisconsin's 11 federally recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities. The proposed resolution, however, states the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and DPI report most school districts don't fully comply with the law's requirements. 

In 2015, MMSD enacted a rule banning students from wearing clothing with Native American athletic team names, logos or mascots while at school. 

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Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.