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Lancaster looking to respectfully move on from mascot uproar

Calm prevailed Tuesday in the Lancaster School District, the day after the School Board voted to stop using the “Redskins” name before a raucous, emotionally charged crowd of 700 where some jeered and turned their backs and others gave a standing ovation.

The district office fielded its share of hate calls. But it also got some praise.

Rumors of a student walkout to protest the decision didn’t pan out.

“It’s been respectful. Students are in classes learning,” Superintendent Michael J. Vallely said Tuesday.

But it was clear the district is taking steps to move forward.

Gone were any references to the Redskins on the digital sign on Forton Drive in front of the high school.

Student athletes were instructed that they should only wear their district-issued uniforms, which for the last couple of years have not included the Redskins name or image, and not those that had been ordered through booster clubs, which do.

Offensive comments posted after Monday’s vote were removed from the district’s Facebook page.

Board President Kenneth Graber was looking for the uproar to die down.

“I just want to put this to sleep,” he said. “We’re there to take care of the children and the district. And we’re not going to let this stop us.”

A big part of moving forward will be picking a new name for the schools’ sports teams, a process that is expected to take months and will begin with meetings with students.

Graber and other school leaders are acutely aware that the furor over retiring the Redskins name could affect the May 19 vote on the district’s 2015-16 budget, a nearly $60 million capital project it is heralding and two seats on the board that will be up for grabs.

The terms of incumbents Wendy Buchert, who is part Native American, and Kimberly Nowak are expiring. Neither has said if they will run again, but both have picked up candidate petition packets. So has pro-Redskins group leader Brenda Christopher, a former School Board member, whose sister teaches in the district. In all, six prospective candidates so far are circulating nominating petitions leading up to the April 20 submission deadline.

Graber said he hopes that those upset by the board’s decision will not decide to cast votes out of anger.

“If they want to hurt the children by voting down the budget and capital project, they should examine their motives,” Graber said.

Many district residents were reluctant Tuesday to speculate publicly about what could happen at the polls. But privately, those who had been involved in the Redskins debate predicted it could be a wild election, especially over the ambitious $57.3 million capital project the district is rolling out. The project calls for the Lancaster Educational and Alumni Foundation to raise $1 million to cover the local share of the $7.7 million in athletic facilities costs wrapped into the overall project. That could be an even taller order now, given the community discontent in the mascot fallout.

“I think it could absolutely impact the budget and capital project,” said Christopher, who circulated nominating petitions for her candidacy Monday night as the crowd gathered for the vote. “But I will not encourage people to fail the budget.”

She added: “It’s not the children’s fault that the Board of Education did not take into consideration how they feel ... I don’t want them to suffer because of the poor decision. The district is incredibly strong and amazing, and I don’t want anything to change because of a name change.”

Despite possible consequences at the polls and an expected large turnout of voters, the district is preparing a respectful and peaceful transition, school officials said.

The district noted that the upcoming capital project provides an opportunity to upgrade district athletic facilities and to incorporate the new team names, mascot and logo.

In addition, the capital project plans call for relocating the main high school gymnasium to make room for a black-box theater. When the new gym is constructed, there likely will be a new mascot in place. Right now, the current gym features a Redskin logo on the floor and painted walls.

School officials also are ready to begin a dialogue about a new mascot with the students – one that Vallely doesn’t intend to rush. He will soon meet with the student unions at the middle and high schools, along with a student advisory committee and the high school’s student leadership academy.

“Obviously, I don’t have all the details yet,” Vallely said, “but I’m going to put it in the hands of the students. We’ll come up with a process over the next weeks and months. We’ll have a student-run process to select a new mascot.”

The district said it plans to preserve elaborate and highly valued graduating class murals that decorate many of the high school’s hallways, many of which contain Redskin references. “The murals that exist are part of our history,” Vallely said Tuesday. “We have all the intentions in the world of preserving them. We’re not going to remove or paint over them.”

The students will eventually make their recommendation for what they would like their new mascot to be. Vallely will, in turn, submit his recommendation to the board for its review before a final decision is made next school year.

At the same time, the administration wants to properly and honorably “retire” the Redskins mascot and not lose sight of its history in Lancaster.

“It’s about retiring a mascot and moving on to a new and exciting part of Lancaster history,” Vallely said.