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Task force to examine mascot as D111 faces dueling challenges prompted by COVID-19, civil unrest

Minooka Community High School District 111 plans to enlist residents and community members to serve on a new task force to study its mascot and logo and their implications for inclusivity.

The decision comes on the heels of the ongoing pandemic, growing civil unrest ensued and the release of the results of the cultural assessment study performed by The Walker Thomas Group, a diversity and inclusion consulting services company.

The work of the mascot task force is slated to begin in November and continue through February 2021.

Superintendent Kenny Lee said the district started examining the issue with diversity and equity in 2019.

“We started to look at what we can do to make our school district a welcoming environment for all of our students,” he said. “We started with training on equity, inclusion and diversity.”

In June 2019, the district created a diversity and equity committee.

“Part of that committee’s work was to have a cultural assessment done,” Lee said.

Lee negated the idea of the district facing mounting pressure to consider changing the mascot and logo in the wake of the nation’s civil unrest and the Washington Football Team dropping its Redskins logo and name.

“We had a meeting in the spring of 2019 where we had some students tell us that they didn’t feel comfortable within our building,” he said. “When we received that feedback, we immediately started a diversity and equity committee.”

A cultural assessment study was conducted a short time later in the spring, which Lee said shows the district was trying to stay atop of the issue. The process involved The Walker Thomas Group interviewing staff and students to generate data to help inform the company and its recommendations.

Lee said he believes the result do not convey that the consultants wrongly assessed what it’s like to be a student or staff member at the high school.

“What it is, is it’s honest feedback from our students of all demographics and our staff of all demographics,” he said. “That’s what we wanted to see is exactly where we’re at, what are our strengths and where we can improve. I don’t think anything was glaringly wrong.”

One of the recommendations coming out of the results of the cultural assessment indicates that the district should give consideration to studying the mascot and logo, as well as their implications for inclusivity.

Lee said it’s clear that there are two sides to the issue.

“People, who are in favor of the mascot, think that it honors traditions here in this community and goes back and honors our history,” he said. “People, who are not in favor of it, say it’s a cultural appropriation of Native Americans.”

Lee said he received feedback from several groups.

“I think it would certainly be important to get Native American input on how they feel in any discussion we have,” Lee said.

The district’s demographic makeup is 0.1% American Indian, 1.1% Asian, 3.4% mixed, 3.9% Black, 18.1% Hispanic and 73.4% white, according to Illinois School Report Card data for the 2019-20 academic year.

The mascot task force has drawn some interest from the public.

Lee said the district hasn’t started formally advertising its need for task force members. He said some of the logistics still have to be ironed out.

“We’ve been awful busy with working through the pandemic and shifting from remote learning to hybrid learning,” Lee said. “We want to stick with the timeline.”

The mascot task force will be examining, among other things, if there are ways to honor Native Americans without changing the mascot and logo.

Lee acknowledged that change would come at a cost to the district because the logos are all over the schools. That cost remains unclear.

Lee said it will be important to get the work of the task force started.

The panel will be tasked with providing a recommendation for the school board to give consideration to.

Lee said he believes the work of the mascot task force will not be for naught.

“Any advice or feedback they get from our constituents and our residents, they take into consideration,” he said.

Ultimately, any decision on the district’s mascot and logo is the school board’s.

When members of the school board were asked to provide comment, most deferred questions to board President Mike Brozovich. Board member Dustin Heap did not respond to a request for comment.

Brozovich declined to comment on behalf of the school board, saying he feels it would be premature to talk—at least for now.

“We are in the process of establishing a committee to assist with this topic and I don’t want their opinions to be tainted going in,” he said in an email.


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