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Education Secretary Arne Duncan praises Lancaster for dropping Redskins mascot

Two weeks after changing its controversial Redskins mascot name, the Lancaster School District received some unexpected praise from the nation’s top education chief.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan tweeted a thank you Tuesday night to the district for “challenging status quo” when the School Board changed the mascot from the racially charged Redskins name to the Lancaster Legends.

Then in a follow-up tweet, he questioned why the NFL’s Washington Redskins football team hasn’t done the same thing to “stop perpetuating racial stereotypes.”

Duncan’s posts on Twitter come at a tumultuous time in Lancaster. The district officially changed its mascot and logo to be the “Lancaster Legends,” after students overwhelmingly voted for it over six other designs earlier this month. School board meetings have turned nasty as the school board took up the issue this spring. Pro-Redskins supporters turned their backs on the eighth grader who designed the Legends logo as she was being recognized by the board at a meeting. At another meeting, the school superintendent was harassed by pro-Redskins supporters as he left.

Superintendent Michael J. Vallely didn’t know about Duncan’s praise until a call from a reporter Wednesday.

“We appreciate the positive support from the United States education secretary,” Vallely said, taking the compliment in stride.

“I’m not surprised it’s at this level because this is a topic that has been going on for 20 to 30 years” around the country, he said. “The Washington Redskins debate continues to rage throughout the nation. It’s been in the spotlight for many, many years ... and we’ve been in the national news for months now.”

Robert W. Christmann, executive director of the Western New York Educational Service Council, said Wednesday that Duncan’s comments were significant, noting they were “highly unusual” and means “someone is following it.”

“We deal with many school districts in the Western New York area and I’ve never heard of one getting a communication from the chief education person in the United States on any topic,” Christmann said.