September 2, 2014

Changes proposed to Wisconsin mascot law (AUDIO)

Individuals calling for schools to remove raced-based mascots or team names could face a much more difficult battle, under a proposal from Republicans at the state Capitol.

Under current law, a single complaint can be enough to get the Department of Public Instruction to order a school to remove an offensive mascot. Since the 2010 law was adopted, DPI has received four complaints about schools with Native American mascots. Of those, three went through the hearing process and were ordered to drop their mascot, while one district agreed to do so voluntarily before a hearing could took place. There are still 30 schools in the state that have Native American mascots or team names.

Under the proposal from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and other Republican lawmakers, a petition calling for the removal of a mascot would have to be signed by a number of district residents equal to 10 percent of the targeted school’s population. Organizers would only have 120 days to collect those signatures.

AUDIO: Speaker Robin Vos (:50)

The Department of Public Instruction currently reviews complaints, but the bill would shift that responsibility to the Department of Administration. Vos says the DOA’s Division of Hearings and Appeals would be a more impartial source for these decisions. The Rochester Republican says there’s a concern that the DPI is not giving schools districts a “fair shake” when it considers mascot challenges.

The legislation would also require the petitioner to prove the mascot causes actual discrimination. Vos says it’s not hard for one person to think a mascot is offensive, but the state should only be acting when “a mascot reinforces those negative stereotypes that look discriminatory.”

Barbara Munson, chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force, says the signature requirement for petitions could be unconstitutional, since it deals with pupil discrimination laws that are designed to protect the rights of the minority. Munson adds that the issue goes beyond Indian mascot and logos being offensive, and that there’s plenty of evidence to support claims that they are harmful to Native Americans and harm all students by perpetuating race-based stereotyping.

AUDIO: Barbara Munson (:32)

State Superintendent Tony Evers says the new requirements would essentially allow Native American mascots to exist forever. He says most people bringing a complaint would find it too difficult to meet the criteria established under the bill, and the changes would just tell the state’s Native American population that there is no recourse open to them.

The bill is expected to receiving a hearing at the Capitol later this fall.