Two Vermont nonprofit advocacy groups filed formal complaints seeking to remove school mascots at eight schools across the state, arguing that they are offensive and harmful to students.
In a letter last week, the Rutland Area NAACP and Gedakina, a nonprofit that supports Indigenous culture and teachings, said that the mascots in question — including the Thunderbirds (Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School), the Colonels (Brattleboro Union High School) and the Rebels (Leland and Gray Union Middle and High School) — are “upholding harmful legacies that continue to harm our children.”
The organizations also filed complaints about the Vermont Commons School’s Flying Turtle, Randolph Union High School’s Galloping Ghosts, Green Mountain Union High School’s Chieftains, and the Raiders, which are mascots at Stowe High School and U-32.
“Whether we are white, Brown or Black and whether we are new immigrants or the original caretakers of this land, we all desire to have safe, happy healthy communities and children free from imagery and names that perpetuate harm,” Gedakina Executive Director Judy Dow and Rutland Area NAACP President Mia Schultz wrote last week. “Isn’t this what you would want for your children and grand children?”
The letter outlined various concerns with the schools’ mascots. The Chieftains of Green Mountain Union and the Raiders of Stowe and U-32 evoked Indigenous stereotypes, Dow and Schultz said.
In 2021, the Green Mountain Unified School District’s board voted to remove the school logo, a stylized image of a headdress-wearing man, according to news reports. Last month, the board reportedly voted to drop the name “chieftains” as well — a decision that lasted roughly a month before the board voted Feb. 16 to bring it back.
It’s unclear whether Stowe and U-32’s Raiders originated from Indigenous stereotypes: The schools’ mascots are a pirate and a knight, respectively.
Dow and Schultz also made the case that the Thunderbirds and the Flying Turtles are disrespectful representations of important figures in Indigenous religions.
“This sacred being should not be used as a mascot in a public school,” they wrote of the Thunderbird.
In 2020, Randolph Union painted over a mural of the ghost after a series of complaints. But Gedakina and the NAACP argued that the mascot still had to be discarded.
“There is a deep legacy attached to this image, newly painted or not,” the groups wrote in their letter.
The letter also suggested that some school mascots — including the Minutemen, the Marauders and the Patriots — had militaristic and violent overtones, but Schultz said the groups did not file formal complaints about them.
“If we can start by eliminating the images and words that harm other people, we can maybe start eliminating the idea that there’s a hierarchy, that there’s a supremacy,” Schultz said in an interview. “That impacts all of our kids, whether you’re white, Black, or Indigenous.”
Devin Bachelder, the chair of the Missisquoi Valley School District board, said in an interview that he was unaware of previous complaints about the Thunderbird mascot.
Under the district’s mascot policy, complainants are expected to present their case to the board. So far, he said, the groups have not yet set a time to do so.
“So that’s the step we’re at in the complaint process,” Bachelder said. “Just really waiting for the trigger to kick it off.”
Officials from other schools that had received formal complaints did not respond to requests for comment or could not be reached Monday.
Last year, Vermont passed a law, Act 152, with the goal of eliminating offensive school mascots. Act 152 required the secretary of education to draft a model policy on “school branding,” one that prohibited school mascots, logos and slogans from employing racial or national stereotypes.
The legislation requires school boards to adopt a policy “at least as comprehensive” as the state’s model. Members of the public may submit formal complaints to school boards if they believe a mascot violates the board’s policy.
“An individual may request an opportunity to appear before the Board for purposes of presenting the complaint, relevant facts, and further explanations,” according to the state’s policy. “The board shall hear the complaint in a fair and just manner.”
If someone is not satisfied with the board’s decision, they can appeal any decisions to Vermont’s Agency of Education.
Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the Agency of Education, confirmed in an email that state officials had “received correspondence… citing concerns about a number of school mascots.”
Fisher pointed out that under state law, school boards must review the complaints first. The state “will act on appeals of school board decisions as they come,” he said.