What was intended to be an Onteora District Board Of Education reorganization meeting for the new fiscal School year, turned into a shouting free-for-all over the removal of the Indian Mascot. At the July 5 meeting at the Middle/High School cafeteria, following annual appointments, and assignments, including appointing Bobbi Schnell as Board President, and Kevin Salem as Vice President, the Board attempted to begin discussions on changing the School Mascot from the Indian to an Eagle. But the attempt became futile when a shouting session initiated from the audience of a dozen or so people who felt they and their children were not part of the Mascot discussion. Trustees Lindsay Shands, and Dale Allison voiced concerns that the community did not have enough input from the process, it was bad timing, and that more research was needed.
Schnell injected some information. “We did receive something from the Seneca Nation, and the indigenous people who lived here were the Esopus specifically, and their descendents now live in Wisconsin and Oklahoma. The tribal council in Wisconsin is having a meeting tonight on a resolution.” A three-page letter from Seneca Nation concluded that sports symbols of Indians were considered derogatory and racist. Schnell continued, “As far as putting it out to a referendum, (as some public requested) it’s recommended from the State Education law book that these decisions are not put out for referendum.”
Trustee Bennett Ratcliff tried to keep on track with the agenda topic on how to plan the change. He asked Interim Superintendent Victoria McLaren what changes were in place. “I’ve been working with our interim athletic director on the uniforms we would need to replace,” said McLaren, “as well as the wrestling mat…I also have an appointment with our director of facilities to review the facilities that need to be looked at in terms of painting, in terms of where the Indian is being depicted.”
Trustee Laurie Osmond said she contacted the Vice President of uniforms at Adidas and was told locking into a contract for designs of new uniforms was not necessary.
But Trustee Valerie Storey felt there was not a true consensus. “As Trustee Allison and Shands said, ‘we did not have the community in here,’ and 107 kids is not giving us a full view and the community coming together…” In a vote among students at the Middle/High School of approximately 600 students, 107 students voted to change the Mascot and a majority chose the Eagle. Storey called the Board vote, “blindsided,” and that appeared to be the word used for the night.
Things became heated when Osmond said, “I would say, respectfully, when the Mascot issue was petitioned at Thanksgiving, that was when it became on the Board radar. The student representative brought it up consistently.” She continued, “I would disagree that board members have not had time to research. I spent months looking at various resolutions from Native American groups and news stories. The information is there, so I would just respectfully disagree that there was no opportunity to do this reading.”
Former school board trustee Cindy O’Connor chimed in from the audience. “It was 107 students!” she said. Victoria Becker sitting near O’Connor yelled, “It was 107 students out of 600 students that voted, and did not have the opportunity to keep the Indian. The students were not even aware that this was going up for a vote, they were not even aware of all of this, on top of everything else, and we voted you in and trusted that you would not blindside the public or our children! This is Bullshit…”
“Alright, please…” Schnell said,
“No! It’s bullshit period!” Becker said.
“Please…” Schnell said.
Becker yelled over her. “No! No!”
“I respectfully ask that you…” pleaded Schnell.
“No, no, I will not shut up!” Becker said. As Schnell continued to try to quiet her down, Becker continued to yell. “I will not. I will not be quiet about this, you’re talking about 600 students who were not rightfully informed!”
“Public be heard is over and we will continue our meeting,” said Schnell, and she moved the board onto another topic on the agenda. Still grumbles were heard throughout the audience. “Why are you ignoring us?” asked Douglas Eighmey.
“We completed that portion of our agenda,” Schnell said,
Eighmey continued the confrontation. “So you are not here to serve the people who voted for you, you are here to serve yourself — is that right?”
Osmond tried to answer. “Sometimes people cannot always make our board meetings. They are meetings of the board held in public, they are not forums by their nature. The board can include a public be heard session…” But was cut off at that point by a back and forth exchange that took place between Trustee Ratcliff and Eighmey over the public commentary section. Eighmey demanded the resignation of trustees who voted to change the mascot. As the meeting continued onto other topics, comments, sometimes boisterous could be heard. Threats of, “this is not over,” were also voiced loudly.
In other news:
- Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Don Gottlieb updated the Board on construction happening throughout the district. A grant has provided dishwashers for Bennett and Woodstock schools, to replace the original dishwashers that he believed were from the 1950s or 60s. The boilers in the Middle/High School are changing over from steam to hot water, and Phoenicia is getting a new green energy pellet boiler. Gottlieb said he visited the company and called it a “first class operation.” The Environmental Performance Contract (EPC) was finally approved by State Education Department and the windows at Woodstock Primary School will be replaced, as will lighting. It also calls for installation of temperature controlled rooms.
- Gottlieb said that because of local repairs on bridges that are causing some road closures, school officials are working with the transportation department for alternative bus routes.
- The board approved John J. Lease Realtor from Newburgh to oversee the sale of West Hurley Elementary School. The contract is effective from July 10, 2016 to April 10, 2017
- The Board approved a contract for a School Resource Officer at the Middle/High School in effect September 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 at a cost of $85,739.57.