On Wednesday, members of the House Education Committee continued discussion of S.139, a measure that would give the state control over local school mascots and associated branding.
While the bill gives the state power to dictate whether branding is permissible, one issue that came up during the committee meeting was what happens when complaints arise against a school
“The school board doesn’t handle it, it goes to the Agency of Education,” Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, and chair of the committee, said. “The Agency of Education says that you are not following the policy, what happens? That remains an open question.”
Elizabeth St. James, representing the Office of Legislative Counsel, said AOE and the secretary of education would be setting the “model policy” for all schools to follow.
“This language as passed by the Senate is silent to any enforcement mechanisms or penalties for non-compliance with a policy,” she said. “School districts are required to adopt a model policy at least as comprehensive as the model policy.”
Rep. John Arrison, D-Weathersfield, asked if a dispute regarding branding could ultimately end up in court. St. James replied that courts are always an option.
“Yes, whether that’s going to be effective or go anywhere, it depends on the facts of the case,” she said.
Arrison said he’s disappointed in the Green Mountain Unified School in Chester for continuing to use symbols and references related to Native Americans.
“They are way behind the curve on this,” he said. “They still have the Chieftain emblem in their gymnasium, they still use the word Chieftain.”
Many community members, including school board members, have not been able to agree about the Indian head logo and use of “Chieftains” for sports teams.
As introduced, S.139 says the bill “proposes to prohibit a public school from having or adopting a name, symbol, or image that depicts or refers to a racial or ethnic group, individual, custom, or tradition and that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead, or team name of the school.”
Rep. Terri Lynn Williams, R-Granby, expressed her concerns about the bill.
“My biggest hesitation to support this is you can’t list everything that people are going to be at issue with,” she said.
James responded that this bill would be like a “living document” that would be presumably modified over time.
Williams asked what happens if no one in a community complains about a mascot. James again reiterated that the bill does not force any analysis by the Agency of Education into whether a school or a school district is in compliance.
If the measure is not passed, local communities would maintain their own control over their own branding decisions.
Williams noted the shift from local control to state control
“So basically this takes it out of the hands of the school board,” she said.
The committee ended its discussion without offering a clear view of the bill’s fate for this session.