FONDA — The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District will drop its “Braves” nickname after plans to preserve the moniker were rejected by a special panel assembled by the state’s Education Department in the wake of a mandate requiring all school districts to stop using Indigenous names, logos and mascots.
In a message posted to its website Thursday, the district announced the state’s Indigenous Mascot Advisory Panel declined its plans submitted earlier this month to retain the Braves’ name that would have seen the district undergo a “rebranding process” aimed at separating the name from its Indigenous roots. The district adopted the name around 70 years ago and used to have a logo depicting an Indigenous person wearing a headdress. The imagery has started to be weaned out in recent years.
“As a school community, we have followed the guidelines and procedures set forth by the New York State Education Department and have attempted to do everything possible to retain the name Braves,” the message says. “The district has asked if there is another path for approval and we have been informed that the Advisory Panel is the governing body that issues the final decision.”
The news came just days after the district announced it had submitted a plan to the advisory panel in hopes of keeping the Braves nickname after reaching an agreement with Thomas Porter, the spiritual leader of the Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke, a member of the Mohawk Nation located in Fonda. The agreement was approved three months after the state Education Department issued a mandate requiring all school districts to cease using Indigenous names, logos and mascots last year.
Under the agreement, the district would have retained the Braves nicknames and Porter would have helped design a new, patriotic logo not associated with Indigenous culture. Plans called for associating the nickname with the last line of the U.S. National Anthem: “The home of the Brave.”
“In our district each individual is a Fonda-Fultonville Brave, singular as is stated in our National Anthem. The plural, Braves, is used when more than one individual is present,” the March 10 letter addressed to the advisory panel and written by Superintendent Thomas Ciaccio read. “In other words, our process will be to identify the word Brave(s) in a broad context that is not limited to any indigenous connection.”
In a letter rejecting the district’s proposal, David Frank, the chief of staff to the Office of Education Policy at the Education Department, said Porter does not represent a federally recognized tribal nation within the state or a state recognized tribal nation. The state recognizes the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, a duly elected and recognized government of the Mohawk Tribe, the letter states.
“We do not speak for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council but they have been clear with the New York State Education Department in their support of the proposed Indigenous Mascot regulations and their rejection of the use of team names such as ‘Braves’ or ‘Brave’ if those names have a historical or current link to Indigenous Americans,” the letter says.
In an email, a spokesperson for the department said said the department applauds the district’s efforts to rebrand itself, but noted that the district “does not anticipate that any team names, logos, or mascots that contain vestiges of prohibited team names, logos or mascots will be considered acceptable.
“As such, our best advice to districts utilizing Indigenous team names, logos, and/or imagery is to treat this as an opportunity to rebrand,” the spokesperson said.
The state’s Education Department has long recommended schools drop logos and mascots that used Indigenous imagery.
In 2001, former Education Commissioner Richard Mills issued a memorandum asking all boards of education “to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical,” citing Native American symbols or depictions as mascots as a barrier “to building a safe and nurturing school community.”
The recommendation became a mandate last year when the department sent a letter to districts saying they must stop using all Indigenous imagery or risk losing state funding following a prolonged effort by the Cambridge Central School District in Washington County to preserve its “Indians” nickname.
The district’s school board voted to drop the name, but a new slate of board members reversed the decision weeks later. A group of community members petitioned Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, who upheld the original vote. The district then filed a lawsuit in an effort to keep the name, but lost.
Earlier this year, the Board of Regents introduced preliminary guidelines that would require boards of education to adopt a resolution laying out plans to move away from the Indigenous imagery — including names, logos and mascots — by the end of the current academic year. Districts have until the end of the 2024-25 academic year to eliminate all use of the imagery.
Public schools, schools buildings and school districts named after an Indigenous tribe would be allowed to remain under the proposed guidelines. Districts that have a written agreement with a federally or state recognized Indigenous nation would be allowed to continue using an Indigenous name, mascot or logo that is culturally affiliated with the nation.
Final guidelines are expected to be approved by the Board of Regents next month.
In its message, the Fonda-Fultonville school district said it will establish a stakeholder committee to develop a plan moving forward once the guidelines are finalized.
“In the coming weeks, the state will be releasing answers to many of the questions we still have as a district,” the message says. “Once these answers are provided, we will set up a community forum to respond to questions, create a stakeholder committee, and discuss a plan moving forward.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.
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