CAMBRIDGE — Removing the Indian name and emblem from Cambridge Central School will cost at least $92,400, Superintendent Douglas Silvernell announced Thursday, provoking audible gasps from about 50 district residents at the board of education’s monthly meeting.
Silvernell warned that he’s waiting for estimates of how much staff time will be required and for replacing some “big-ticket” items such as the Indian profile on the football and basketball scoreboards. That’s likely to push the cost above $100,000.
The school board had planned to discuss whether to accept or contest state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa’s ruling on the school’s Indian nickname and emblem. School Board President Jessica Ziehm announced at the beginning of the meeting that since it was unclear how many board members would be able to attend until just before the meeting’s start, they decided to postpone discussion of a possible legal fight until all could attend.
Board member Shay Price is on a military deployment at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and could not join remotely for the December meeting. As it happened, Price was able to make the connections Thursday but had to leave before the meeting concluded. He is expected back for the board’s February meeting.
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Twenty-five residents took the opportunity to address the board, mostly about the Indian issue. Twelve wanted to keep the mascot.
Arlene Carpenter said the community should vote on the matter. “Our Indian heritage is very, very important and Indian people are very important,” Carpenter said.
Pauline Grimes said she is the great-granddaughter of an Indian chief from Delaware. “I’m proud of the mascot and I don’t want it to be removed,” she said.
“No one has come before the board who is Native American and wants to retire the mascot,” said Sean Cossey. “The kids are proud of the school and its culture. The imagery is not offensive and the name is not being used offensively.”
The issue was settled when the board voted to bring the mascot back in July, Cossey said, but “one family” overturned the vote by petitioning Rosa. (In fact, four families with children in the district, some of them enrolled at the school, submitted the 310 petition.)
On the other hand, a woman said she was sending her children to school in Bennington because she didn’t want them exposed to the Indian and the controversy around it.
Sue Kenyon said her sons went to Cambridge and she was never bothered by the Indian mascot. Kenyon said “my thoughts changed” when she started researching the issue.
“I believe you can’t have a race of people as a mascot if they’re asking you not to,” Kenyon said. Bills have been introduced in the state legislature to end Native mascots statewide, she said.
“Ultimately we are going to have to choose a new mascot,” Kenyon said.
Teresa Foster read a letter from an official of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans, the last group of Indigenous people known to have lived in the area. The band is officially opposed to race-based mascots, according to the letter.
Several speakers blamed outsiders for igniting the controversy. Morgan Cavalier asked which of the board members, other than Dillon Honyoust, had been born and raised in the area.
“How can people who weren’t born and raised in Cambridge come here and change us?” she demanded. (School board members are elected by district residents.)
Others attacked board member Neil Gifford, who cast the deciding vote to retire the mascot in June and later contacted Rosa privately in support of the 310 petition. Silvernell also came under fire.
Dawn Case wanted to know what happened to the 389-signature petition she had mailed to the board calling for Gifford’s immediate removal or resignation “for egregious behavior.” Derek Woodcock blamed Gifford and Silvernell for “causing strife.”
Silvernell, who began as superintendent in 2019, is up for review and possible extension of his contract this year. “Does Dr. Silvernell deserve a contract extension?” asked Alan Davis, provoking a chorus of “No!”
A few people urged restraint. “Take time to talk to your neighbors,” even when they disagree, said Matt Davis.
“We are not fundamentally opposed as people,” said William McQuerry. “We all have an equal right to call this beautiful corner of the world our home.”