A lawyer for the state's top education officials, the Board of Regents, asked a federal judge this week to consolidate lawsuits that Long Island school districts filed this fall to overturn the state’s ban on their Native American mascots.
Four lawsuits filed against the Regents by Massapequa, Wantagh and Wyandanch, Connetquot and Amityville school districts involve “identical issues and nearly identical facts,” state Assistant Attorney General Helena Lynch wrote in a Nov. 1 letter to U.S. District Court Judge Margo K. Brodie. Wantagh and Wyandanch filed jointly.
Consolidating the lawsuits would save “substantial judicial resources” and avoid judicial inconsistency that could arise by assigning the matters to different judges, she wrote.
Lynch, reached Friday, referred a request for comment to the state attorney general’s press office, which did not comment.
Adam Kleinberg, the Carle Place lawyer representing the school districts, did not respond to requests for comment.
State Education Department officials in April cited state statute intended to prohibit bullying and other forms of discrimination in public schools when they said that public schools using Native American mascots, team names and logos would have until the end of the 2024-25 school year to change the names and remove the imagery.
The Regents are responsible for the general supervision of all educational activities within the state, presiding over the education department.
Thirteen school districts on Long Island were affected by the ban. Districts that don’t comply risk losing state funding and removal of school officers.
Amityville, the last district to sue, filed last month, asserting it had already spent $1 million on rebranding that retired Native American imagery but kept a version of its “Warriors” logo.
Massapequa, which uses the “Chiefs” nickname, was the first district to sue the state over the law, arguing in a September filing that the department had violated the First Amendment and exceeded its authority and due process. School board members said in a letter on the district website that the Chief was a vital part of the district’s “history and our heritage. When we speak of the Massapequa 'Chief,' we do so with pride and respect.”
But Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Nation, whose territory is near the Town of Southampton, called that “hogwash” earlier this year. “It’s offensive when you say you’re trying to honor us. … You honor us by incorporating our history in the curriculum, having a cultural exchange.”