The State Department of Education added names such as Thunderbirds, Warriors, Chiefs and Braves to the banned list of school names. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

Schools with team names such as Warriors, Chiefs, Braves and Thunderbirds that have used indigenous imagery will have to change their names, according to David Frank, an assistant commissioner with the state Department of Education who on Friday provided the clearest information yet on how the state's new policy banning Native American mascots will play out.

The state Board of Regents passed a ban on the use of Native American mascots, team names and imagery at public schools on Tuesday. Many Long Island administrators were left confused about which team names would be affected.

"The department’s position on this is clear," Frank said. "If any team, mascots, logos or names have any connection to indigenous nations or peoples, either at the present time or in the past, they need to change their team name."

The Comsewogue, Wyandanch and Wantagh districts will need to replace the name Warriors based on the directive.

What to Know

  • Schools whose team names have "any connection to indigenous nations or peoples, either at the present time or in the past" will need to change them, David Frank, the assistant commissioner with the state Department of Education, said Friday. 
  • Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn issued a statement saying, "We have informed the NYS Education Department, in very clear terms, our disappointment and disagreement" that the school's Warriors name will not be permitted.
  • Thunderbirds, a name derived from a Native American mythical creature, also will not be permitted, affecting Connetquot and Half Hollow Hills East schools.

"We understand our 'Warriors' name will not be permitted," Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said in a statement. "We are in consultation with the several other districts who also use 'Warriors' to determine what we might do together regarding the state's position in this matter. We have informed the NYS Education Department, in very clear terms, our disappointment and disagreement. ...  After consultation with our legal counsel, the other 'Warrior' districts, and our community, we will consider what our options are and what our next steps should be."

Schools whose “Warrior” nickname never had indigenous ties, like the upstate Chenango Valley Warriors, who use an ancient Greek figure as a mascot, will not have to make a change, Frank said. No “Warriors” school on Long Island falls under this category. 

Frank said the new state rule will not allow team names that have “any vestiges” of Native American names or images, even if districts remove the indigenous imagery that goes with them. This also applies to schools that phased out their indigenous imagery before the rule was passed earlier this week, such as the Amityville Warriors, and schools with less immediate, overt ties to Native American imagery, like the Connetquot and Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds.

“Yes," Frank said, "those team names do need to change.”

The decision on Thunderbirds, a name that is derived from a Native American mythical creature, does have precedent, with Colorado including them in a similar statewide ban that went into effect in 2021.

“Our district is committed to respecting all people and cultures, while also maintaining the strong affiliation of our proud High School East alumni,” said Patrick Harrigan, superintendent of schools in Half Hollow Hills. “Even prior to the Department of Education’s most recent guidance that includes the requirement to change the Thunderbird mascot at High School East, we had begun discussions with students and staff to explore what the process of selecting a new mascot could look like and planning for how we can include community input."

The Connetquot district did not respond to requests for comment.

An April 6 Regents item said the state would no longer allow "Indians" as a team name. There are three Long Island schools that use that name -- Brentwood, Manhasset and Sewanhaka.

The directive will also affect the Syosset Braves; Massapequa Chiefs;  the East Islip Redmen, and the Sachem Flaming Arrows, which includes both their East and North high schools. It is not likely to include the Plainedge, Center Moriches and Freeport Red Devils, which have not been known to have used indigenous imagery to represent the teams on uniforms, fields or school property.

Schools have until the end of this school year to make a commitment, via resolution, to change their team names and mascots. They will then have until the end of the 2024-25 school year to change things like turf fields, uniforms, scoreboards and other signage on school grounds. Those who do not comply will risk losing state aid, and school officers losing their jobs.

Massapequa said the Board of Regents “is overextending its reach and removing our local control,” and that the name honors the town’s native history. 

Asked about districts that defy the mandate, Frank said, "We don't want to focus on the punitive side of things. We're hopeful that the vast majority of schools and districts, as we've already seen across the state ... are already engaged in these processes [of change]. 

"No one wants to get to those penalties," he added, "and I'm confident that educators across New York State will see the effects these vestiges of the past are having on indigenous peoples in the modern day and make those changes." 

He affirmed Massapequa's right to seek legal counsel -- something the district said it planned to do in its statement -- but added, "they should talk to the indigenous peoples of Long Island and see what impact it has on them."

There is no appeals process, Frank said, but he encouraged districts to contact the department if they had further questions. There is one exception to the rule: A written exemption from a state or federally recognized tribe with established ties to the community.  

Neither the Shinnecock, which are federally recognized, nor the Unkechaug, which are state recognized, said they expected to grant an exemption, and Frank did not believe one has been granted by any indigenous nation at this point. The exemption must also come from a legitimate representative of the indigenous nation.

“We’ve seen a lot of districts go ‘shop’ for approval from indigenous nations and that is not the intent of these regulations,” he said. “The intent is that if there is a pre-existing relationship, then at the nation’s discretion, (the mascot) could continue.” 

Frank added that schools that show a “good-faith effort” but are under “extenuating circumstances” can request an extension from Commissioner Betty Rosa. They may also request building aid with the state facilities office for projects that cost over $10,000. If approved, the rate of reimbursement will vary from district to district.  

“This is about the human and civil rights of indigenous peoples,” Frank said. “We went and spoke to indigenous students. …Hearing the pain and the shame that these students have when they’re playing against the ‘Indians’ or the ‘Warriors’ with an antiquated and, quite frankly, inaccurate depiction of Native Americans that live in New York, even in the past or the present — they felt like they weren’t part of our larger society, that they weren’t able to reach their full potential.” 

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