BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — New York public schools that don’t commit to getting rid of their Native American mascots by the end of the 2022-23 school year face repercussions, the State Education Department announced in a memo sent to schools in November.

A court decision in June established that public schools will be prohibited from using Native American mascots going forward.

If schools do not comply by the end of this school year, they will be in violation of the Dignity Act. As a result, they risk the removal of school officers, including the superintendent, or the withholding of state aid. The names, logos, and mascots will officially be replaced in June 2024.

“What people have to understand is that when the State Education Department issues a regulation it carries the force of law. It carries the force of law because of the weight of the consequences,” Michael Cornell, president of the Erie-Niagara Superintendents Association, said.

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” as well as that they are developing regulations to outline schools’ obligations regarding a change. Arguments that community members support the use of the imagery or that it is “respectful” to Native Americans are no longer tenable.

“The school district would be unable to provide basic services that it provides. One-third to one half of every school budget in Western New York is funded directly through state aid,” Superintendent Cornell said.

On Friday, the Salamanca City Central School District, whose teams are the Warriors and whose logo depicts a Seneca male, released a statement that included the following:

Throughout the month of January, Salamanca schools will constitute a panel consisting of students, parents and community members, school board members, representatives from the Seneca Nation, and employees that will conduct public hearings on the topic of our current school name and imagery. This panel will make a recommendation to the board of education who will determine if and when we request approval from the Seneca Nation.

Mark D. Beehler, Superintendent of Salamanca Schools

One West Seneca West parent says he disagrees with the new regulation and that his son’s school would need to change from the Indians to a new name.

“Things are going a little too far as far as the fact that you have to change a name that’s been there because it offends somebody else when it’s not like its a major thing. It’s just a representation of what the students play for,” Thomas Gervasio said.

Lancaster School District replaced its team name, mascot and logo in 2015. The decision to change from the Redskins to Legends divided the town. Students voted on a new name and logo design, which was created by their classmates.

The state is expected to create additional guidance to replace imagery within the schools and on team uniforms. Superintendent Cornell suggests schools who have not made the change consult with districts who have gone through the process.

“The Lancaster Legends was selected by the students as I recall and I believe the logo was drawn by a student. Often times, when you put your students in charge of that process with the guidance of the adults, the results are often excellent,” Superintendent Cornell said.

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.

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.