Earlier this month, the Green Mountain school board voted to keep its controversial “Chieftain” mascot name, prompting three school board members and the superintendent to resign. Photo via Facebook

After a controversial vote to keep its “Chieftain” mascot name led to a slew of resignations, the Green Mountain Unified School District welcomed back two of the three board members who first expressed their intent to resign the week prior.

About 100 members of the public attended the meeting, and the majority who spoke bashed the board for its unprofessional conduct at the meeting and its earlier decision to keep the “chieftain” label. 

Following months of public debate and at least two votes on the topic, the Green Mountain board voted May 19 to keep the chieftain name amid concern that the mascot violated state law regarding offensive mascots, the Chester Telegraph first reported. 

That latest vote prompted the resignation of three of the school board’s 11 members, as well as Lauren Fierman, superintendent of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, which oversees Green Mountain High School. 

The Green Mountain school district includes Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester. Green Mountain Union High School, which has the chieftain mascot, is in Chester.

A year after the school board removed the “Chieftain” image but kept the name in 2021, the Legislature passed Act 152. The law required Vermont schools to adopt a “nondiscriminatory school branding policy” by the start of this year, aiming to eliminate the use of offensive and stereotypical branding at schools around the state. 

In accordance with the new law, the Green Mountain school board voted 7-2 in January to eliminate use of the “Chieftain” mascot entirely — both name and image.

But soon after, some district residents circulated an online petition to reverse the decision and bring the Chieftain back to the school, garnering 500 signatures. The petition, which is still online, cites tradition, history and alternate definitions of “chieftain” outside of Indigenous culture, despite the headdress originally associated with the mascot.

On Feb. 16, the school board voted 6-4 to reinstate the name, though not the image. 

Tempers flare, board members return

Last week, amid contentious back and forth between school board members and with the public, the board welcomed back Katie Murphy and Kate Lamphere onto the board, while affirming the resignation of a third board member, Dennis Reilly. 

Initially, Deb Brown, the board’s chair, held votes to accept the resignations of the three board members. Voicing opposition, board member Josh Schroeder said the board should slow down before deciding, saying he had not had the opportunity to read the resignation letters.

“The fact remains that they walked out of the last meeting and resigned in public, so that should be enough right there,” Brown said.

Tempers flaring, Schroeder disagreed: “I mean, maybe that’s enough for you.”

“Actions have consequences,” Brown replied.

Said Schroeder, “I think it’s my turn to talk.”

Returning to proceedings, the board voted at first to accept the resignations of Dennis Reilly and Katie Murphy. Opponents of those decisions, including board member Steve Perani, argued that Kate Lamphere, who initially expressed her intent to resign but then backtracked, should be able to vote on the motions, having not already resigned. 

With Lamphere not participating in the meeting’s first proceedings, Perani and Schroeder — who previously voted against the chieftain name and not to accept the resignations — argued the meeting should be adjourned. Their request went ungranted.

“I am not entertaining a motion; I am starting the meeting over as asked,” said Brown, the chair. 

Cries from the public both in person and on Zoom broke up the board’s progress, and multiple motions made simultaneously added to the confusion.

Eventually, the board voted once again regarding Katie Murphy’s resignation, and she was brought back onto the board. 

With the votes and revotes out of the way, some of the 100 members of the public in attendance began to lash out at the board, condemning its action on the chieftain name and the messy and vitriolic procession that had just occurred.

Even one of the district’s principals, who will leave her post at the end of the year, voiced her disapproval.

“I’ve been at every single board meeting this year, and there was a precise moment when things started to go very bad,” said Amy Bohren, Cavendish Town Elementary School principal. “That precise moment was when there was a change in the board president.” 

As the meeting drew to a close, Brown, the board chair, addressed her intentions. 

“I continue to do the best that I can, and that’s all I can do … I am here for the kids,” she said. “With that, I would entertain a motion to adjourn.”

VTDigger's southeastern Vermont reporter.