ELMA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Members of the Iroquois Central School District are mulling the district being forced to change its nickname, mascot and logo over a new State Department of Education regulation.

Schools that refuse to get rid of their Native American mascot, logo or name risk losing state funding and the removal of school officers. Leaders in the Iroquois District are taking a closer look at that.

On Wednesday, the district held its board of education meeting where district leaders say they plan to listen to concerns from Native Nations and wait for additional guidance from the state before making any change.

“We have to listen and learn. We have to become more knowledgeable. We have to be more knowledgeable about what the state is looking for and the process of what they’re looking for has to be accomplished,” Douglas Scofield, Superintendent of Iroquois Central Schools, said.

Iroquois goes by the nickname Chiefs is one of a handful of schools in Western New York that the state has targeted to change its nickname.

In November, the State Department of Education issued a memo that New York schools must commit to getting rid of any Native American or Indigenous mascots by the end of the 2022-23 school year or face repercussions. A court decision in June prohibited the use of it.

“We can’t get excited. We have to find out the direction we’re going. We have to continue to talk as a board. I think reaching out to Native Americans is a very important part of this,” Superintendent Scofield added.

If schools do not comply by the end of the school year, they will be in violation of the Dignity Act. As a result, they would be risking the removal of school officers, including the district superintendent, or withholding of state aid. The names, mascots and logos will be replaced in June 2024. Faced with these penalties, Iroquois Schools say it does plan to follow the New York State Regulations. The district hopes to receive more guidance on the memo early next year. It also plans to consult with the Seneca Nation and other experts about the nickname and logo, too.

Many board members criticized the New York State Education Department and said the memo was vague and didn’t include key details, such as who would pay to make these changes. Districts say team uniforms, athletic fields, building walls, signage, and other items will have to change if the nickname, mascot or logo is altered, which could be a significant expense.

“There’s a whole lot of questions that have to be answered before we can even begin to formulate any kind of process for this,” Charles Specht, Iroquois Board of Education member, said. “I can’t sit up here as a white male and tell you what it feels like to be a Native American male and see those words or those images.”

NYSED stated that “schools that continue to utilize Native American team names, logos, and/or imagery without current approval from a recognized tribe must immediately come into
compliance.”

The Iroquois Board of Education urged for the community to remain united during this process and respect others opinions. Public comment during the meeting was very civil.

One Elma resident said he believes the moniker “Chiefs” and the logo honors the Iroquois. He does not want to see either go away.

“To still be called the Chiefs and have no visual representation of the chiefs is an empty and shallow gesture. I think we’re either in or not,” David Baker said during public comment.

Renee Engels says she has been involved with the district for most of her life and does not want to see the name altered.

“We didn’t just pick this name out of the air. I mean It’s intrinsically linked to the people who resided on this land before we were here,” Engels added.

In 2015, the Lancaster School District changed its name from the Redskins to the Legends, a move that divided the town. Students voted on the new name and logo design, which was designed by classmates.

The school is expected to create additional guidance on replacing imagery in the schools, as well as uniforms, at a later date.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.