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Watkins questions school mascot, imagery

WATKINS GLEN--The Watkins Glen board of education discussed the possibility of spending up to $90,000 to replace all school property, including uniforms, posters and other displays, bearing Native American imagery. This would include anything with the image of a Native American, arrowhead, feather and other related items.
"It's both a philosophical and an economic conversation when discussing this," said Watkins Glen Superintendent Greg Kelahan.
While no decision was made regarding the name or imagery, the board did decide that they wanted to discuss the matter further with a representative of the Seneca Nation.
"It should be noted that I only received three emails about this unsolicited," Kelahan said. "All three were letting me know that if we are looking for parents to help out to remove this they would be interested. The only three I got were people looking to help us turn the corner and not to hold on to this tradition."
While the possibility of removing the name Senecas was discussed, Kelahan said most of the discussion has centered around Native American imagery and not the name.
"No one has discussed (changing the name) with me beyond one teacher who suggested it might be time to move on from it, but it hasn't been part of the conversation for me or others. It's up to you guys," Kelahan told the board.
While the board made no decision, it was mentioned a state law has recently been proposed giving school districts three years to replace district mascots and imagery deemed to be demeaning to Native American cultures.
The board also went over the checklist recently issued by the state related to reopening schools in the fall that school districts must have completed by July 31 in response to COVID-19.
"So we have 14 days, not even, 11 days, before the governor expects these to be out and published," Kelahan said. "No matter what the plan is it has to be written for all variations."
While careful to point out she was not making a political statement, board member Jessica Saks expressed her displeasure in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for taking so long in issuing the guidelines.
Included in the checklist is the need for scheduling for hybrid learning, in school learning, and out of school learning, the maximum level of occupancy for every room in the district, a protocol in place for if a student or employee tests positive, an ability to check the temperature of every student and employee before they step foot in a building or a school bus and accounting for an ever-increasing list of reasons employees can use for requesting the ability to work from home.
"I have been talking to my colleagues across the state about this, and we have all been scratching our heads as to how we can make this all happen," Kelahan commented.
The board made no official decisions and delegated most of the plan-making to specially formed committees. However, the board seemed unified on the disapproval of the notion of half days.
The board also discussed the possibility of eliminating prekindergarten and kindergarten classes. It was determined to eliminate the prekindergarten program would cost the district close to $500,000 in federal funding, most of which is used to pay teacher salaries, and the district would still have to pay if the program was eliminated. Kelahan said the elimination of kindergarten would remove a valuable opportunity for education professionals to engage in early intervention programs with students who are determined to have learning disabilities or disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In the end, no decision was made, and Kelahan said that he did not recommend eliminating either program for the following school year.

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