A year after the announcement that all New York schools must remove imagery and mascots representing Native Americans, some school districts have made progress toward this goal. And some have not. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost, Alejandra Villa Loarca; File Footage

Several Long Island school districts are close to naming new mascots and logos a year after the state Education Department mandated that public schools must remove all references to Native American imagery or risk losing state aid.

The requirement was met with outcry in some districts, where opponents said the state was overstepping its authority and that the names represented tradition and community pride. Legal action taken by five local districts against the state continues.

School systems statewide have until June 30, 2025, to eliminate prohibited team names, mascots or logos from buildings, uniforms and other items associated with a campus, according to the mandate approved by the Board of Regents last year. The order fell under the Dignity for All Students Act, which was enacted to create a nonhostile learning environment for students.

Local districts since have created committees, surveyed community members, started the removal of names on uniforms and budgeted costs to meet the requirement. A total of 13 districts on Long Island are affected. Some are further along in the process than others.

“Once the decision came down from the state, the district and the board adopted it pretty quickly that it was something we needed to do,” said Thomas Dolan, interim superintendent for the Sewanhaka Central High School District. “I think we’ve done a really good job of taking a task and turning it into something really positive for the school.”

Through surveys of the community, including of students, the Sewanhaka district has narrowed the new mascot to three choices for the high school in Floral Park. The district said a new mascot to replace the “Indians” will be named next month. The high school temporarily rebranded under the logo “S” and removed the former team name from jerseys.

At a Brentwood school board meeting Tuesday night, officials revealed that “Spartans” won a student and community survey for the district's new mascot, which would replace “Indians.” The change is pending approval from the board.

The process to select a new mascot was student-driven in Brentwood. Students took part in a principal's committee and presented a new mascot plan to the Board of Education. Community members and students were surveyed about their choices from six names, including the Bears, Spartans and Green Machine.

Senior Karla Chica, 17, wrote an award-winning article about the issue for the student newspaper and interviewed residents. She found that the older generations in Brentwood appeared to favor the Indians mascot.

“Because they grew up with it, their kids grew up with it, their grandchildren grew up with it,” she said. “But people our age and in our school … they don't really mind … because they understand how conflicted it is and how stereotypical it is.”

Chica and Brentwood student Alejandra Diaz, 17, were part of the district's new mascot committee.

“I agree with the change,” said Diaz, a junior. “I know, it's going to be difficult … because it's been like this for a long time … but I think it's needed.”

Five districts — Amityville, Connetquot, Massapequa, Wantagh and Wyandanch — have filed legal challenges to the state mandate. Connetquot school officials declined to comment on their effort to keep the “Thunderbirds,” but the district’s legal filing argued that “mythical birds and other creatures are not unique to Native American culture, nor is the Thunderbird itself.”

The court papers said the district’s logo is “more akin to an eagle or other type of real-life bird.”

Amityville, Wantagh and Wyandanch all share “Warriors” for their mascots and in court papers, Amityville officials say that name represents a “universal cultural symbol” and that the state had allowed a district in Chenango Valley to keep it. Amityville had removed all Native American imagery associated with its mascot at a cost of about $1 million in 2018 and rebranded under the letter “A.”

Wantagh and Wyandanch filed a joint lawsuit.

In Wantagh, the district agreed to eliminate all Native American imagery but is looking to keep the name. Superintendent John McNamara said a mascot committee made up of community members is planning for two options depending on the legal outcome.

“One charge was for keeping the Warrior nickname … to move away from the Native American imagery and come up with some new imagery to represent that,” he said. “The second charge was for a completely new nickname and completely new imaging.”

Four of the five districts have spent more than $42,000 in combined legal fees on challenging the state mandate, according to documents Newsday obtained through public records requests. Amityville did not respond to a public records request and declined to comment.

Educators have said that removing this imagery will be expensive. Wantagh has estimated about $550,000 in costs, McNamara said. In Half Hollow Hills, officials said it will cost about $171,200 to replace assets such as the turf field, logo, scoreboard and signage at the east high school. Manhasset district officials reported that renovations will cost about $350,000.

In Manhasset, a community poll is underway to move from the prior “Indian” mascot and choose from among the Eagles, Mavericks or Manhasset, also shorthanded to “Set.”

“Please note, that even though the name of our teams will change, our traditional school colors of blue and orange will remain. Our logo will continue to be a blue and orange M, however without the feather,” read a recent message to the community from Superintendent Gaurav Passi to the school community.

Syosset school officials said in a recent statement that “we are currently working on estimating the costs associated with the required changes, the largest will involve the removal of the name ‘Braves’ from our high school’s turf field. As we move forward with selecting a new mascot, our priority is to ensure that it embodies the values of inclusivity within our community.”

Amityville’s proposed 2024-25 budget posted online showed nearly $200,000 in expenses for mascot changes, including at least $83,000 for replacement of the high school gym floor.

Costs for these expenditures can be offset by building aid, which “is available for certain approved capital outlays and debt services for school buildings where the construction costs of the project equal or exceed $10,000, excluding incidental costs,” said JP O’Hare, spokesman for the state Education Department.

Districts have been paying directly for lower-cost items such as new uniforms and signage, said Brian Fessler, director of governmental relations for the New York State School Boards Association.

The state Education Department's effort on mascots goes back more than two decades, when in 2001 then-Education Commissioner Richard Mills recommended ending the use of Native American mascots as soon as possible. The state picked up the issue again recently, and the Board of Regents approved the change last April.

Harry Wallace, former chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation who lives on the Poospatuck Reservation in Mastic, said he has been encouraged by recent changes in schools statewide.

“We've been involved in trying to eliminate mascots from teams and from schools and institutions and other organizations for quite a long time,” he said. “And the reason is because it is a depiction of our people that doesn't exist. It is a form of racism that promotes a stereotypical image of a people that is harmful, not only to our children, but also to the nonnative child who gets a distorted image of … native people.”

Several Long Island school districts are close to naming new mascots and logos a year after the state Education Department mandated that public schools must remove all references to Native American imagery or risk losing state aid.

The requirement was met with outcry in some districts, where opponents said the state was overstepping its authority and that the names represented tradition and community pride. Legal action taken by five local districts against the state continues.

School systems statewide have until June 30, 2025, to eliminate prohibited team names, mascots or logos from buildings, uniforms and other items associated with a campus, according to the mandate approved by the Board of Regents last year. The order fell under the Dignity for All Students Act, which was enacted to create a nonhostile learning environment for students.

Local districts since have created committees, surveyed community members, started the removal of names on uniforms and budgeted costs to meet the requirement. A total of 13 districts on Long Island are affected. Some are further along in the process than others.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Several Long Island school districts are moving closer to naming new mascots and logos a year after the state Education Department mandated that public schools must remove all references to Native American imagery or risk losing state aid.
  • School systems statewide have until June 30, 2025, to eliminate prohibited team names, mascots or logos from buildings, uniforms and all other items associated with a school campus.
  • Local districts since have created committees, surveyed community members, started the removal of names on uniforms, and budgeted costs to meet the state requirement. A total of 13 districts on Long Island are impacted.

“Once the decision came down from the state, the district and the board adopted it pretty quickly that it was something we needed to do,” said Thomas Dolan, interim superintendent for the Sewanhaka Central High School District. “I think we’ve done a really good job of taking a task and turning it into something really positive for the school.”

Sewanhaka interim superintendent Thomas Dolan, top, right, said the district is turning the state mandate “into something really positive” as it considers a new mascot. Bottom: The high school is temporarily using the logo “S”. Credit: Newsday/ Steve Pfost

Through surveys of the community, including of students, the Sewanhaka district has narrowed the new mascot to three choices for the high school in Floral Park. The district said a new mascot to replace the “Indians” will be named next month. The high school temporarily rebranded under the logo “S” and removed the former team name from jerseys.

At a Brentwood school board meeting Tuesday night, officials revealed that “Spartans” won a student and community survey for the district's new mascot, which would replace “Indians.” The change is pending approval from the board.

The process to select a new mascot was student-driven in Brentwood. Students took part in a principal's committee and presented a new mascot plan to the Board of Education. Community members and students were surveyed about their choices from six names, including the Bears, Spartans and Green Machine.

Senior Karla Chica, 17, wrote an award-winning article about the issue for the student newspaper and interviewed residents. She found that the older generations in Brentwood appeared to favor the Indians mascot.

Brentwood students Karla Chica, left, and Alejandra Diaz were part of the district's new mascot committee. Credit: Rick Kopstein

“Because they grew up with it, their kids grew up with it, their grandchildren grew up with it,” she said. “But people our age and in our school … they don't really mind … because they understand how conflicted it is and how stereotypical it is.”

Chica and Brentwood student Alejandra Diaz, 17, were part of the district's new mascot committee.

“I agree with the change,” said Diaz, a junior. “I know, it's going to be difficult … because it's been like this for a long time … but I think it's needed.”

Five districts — Amityville, Connetquot, Massapequa, Wantagh and Wyandanch — have filed legal challenges to the state mandate. Connetquot school officials declined to comment on their effort to keep the “Thunderbirds,” but the district’s legal filing argued that “mythical birds and other creatures are not unique to Native American culture, nor is the Thunderbird itself.”

The court papers said the district’s logo is “more akin to an eagle or other type of real-life bird.”

Amityville, Wantagh and Wyandanch all share “Warriors” for their mascots and in court papers, Amityville officials say that name represents a “universal cultural symbol” and that the state had allowed a district in Chenango Valley to keep it. Amityville had removed all Native American imagery associated with its mascot at a cost of about $1 million in 2018 and rebranded under the letter “A.”

The Amityville Warriors signage at a Suffolk Division III football game against Eastport-South Manor in Amityville in September. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Wantagh and Wyandanch filed a joint lawsuit.

In Wantagh, the district agreed to eliminate all Native American imagery but is looking to keep the name. Superintendent John McNamara said a mascot committee made up of community members is planning for two options depending on the legal outcome.

“One charge was for keeping the Warrior nickname … to move away from the Native American imagery and come up with some new imagery to represent that,” he said. “The second charge was for a completely new nickname and completely new imaging.”

Four of the five districts have spent more than $42,000 in combined legal fees on challenging the state mandate, according to documents Newsday obtained through public records requests. Amityville did not respond to a public records request and declined to comment.

Educators have said that removing this imagery will be expensive. Wantagh has estimated about $550,000 in costs, McNamara said. In Half Hollow Hills, officials said it will cost about $171,200 to replace assets such as the turf field, logo, scoreboard and signage at the east high school. Manhasset district officials reported that renovations will cost about $350,000.

In Manhasset, a community poll is underway to move from the prior “Indian” mascot and choose from among the Eagles, Mavericks or Manhasset, also shorthanded to “Set.”

“Please note, that even though the name of our teams will change, our traditional school colors of blue and orange will remain. Our logo will continue to be a blue and orange M, however without the feather,” read a recent message to the community from Superintendent Gaurav Passi to the school community.

Syosset school officials said in a recent statement that “we are currently working on estimating the costs associated with the required changes, the largest will involve the removal of the name ‘Braves’ from our high school’s turf field. As we move forward with selecting a new mascot, our priority is to ensure that it embodies the values of inclusivity within our community.”

Amityville’s proposed 2024-25 budget posted online showed nearly $200,000 in expenses for mascot changes, including at least $83,000 for replacement of the high school gym floor.

Costs for these expenditures can be offset by building aid, which “is available for certain approved capital outlays and debt services for school buildings where the construction costs of the project equal or exceed $10,000, excluding incidental costs,” said JP O’Hare, spokesman for the state Education Department.

Districts have been paying directly for lower-cost items such as new uniforms and signage, said Brian Fessler, director of governmental relations for the New York State School Boards Association.

The state Education Department's effort on mascots goes back more than two decades, when in 2001 then-Education Commissioner Richard Mills recommended ending the use of Native American mascots as soon as possible. The state picked up the issue again recently, and the Board of Regents approved the change last April.

Harry Wallace, former chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation who lives on the Poospatuck Reservation in Mastic, said he has been encouraged by recent changes in schools statewide.

“We've been involved in trying to eliminate mascots from teams and from schools and institutions and other organizations for quite a long time,” he said. “And the reason is because it is a depiction of our people that doesn't exist. It is a form of racism that promotes a stereotypical image of a people that is harmful, not only to our children, but also to the nonnative child who gets a distorted image of … native people.”

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