Asheville Citizen Times - Tuesday January 27, 1999
Asheville- The U.S. Justice Department has launched an investigation
into the two-year controversy
surrounding the mascots of Erwin High School, according to a letter obtained by the Citizen-Times Tuesday.
The letter, sent to Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Bob bowers
and Walter Currie, attorney for
the Buncombe County Board of Education, reports that the Department of Justice, "has received a written
complaint from the parents of American Indian children who attend schools in the Buncombe County
Public School District."
Lawrence Baca, a senior trial attorney with the Department of Justice
informed the board Tuesday that they
are being investigated for possible violations of federal non-discrimination policies.
The letter, given to the newspaper by Currie, says that the parents
who filed the complaint allege that the
Erwin mascots are "offensive" and "create a racially hostile environment."
The Erwin boys' teams are called the "Warriors" and the girls' teams
mascot refers to a womans' pelvic area,
as interpreted by some American Indian languages.
The board has never voted on the Erwin High mascot issue, other than
deciding to let the students vote on the
matter. Schools official continue to uphold the students' decision last May to keep the mascots by 41 percent.
Since then, the board has considered the issue dead.
But the 27-member Native American Intertribal Association and other American Indian leaders see it differently.
"This a sign of, look, you're going to be in litigation and you're going
to have the Department of Gasket down your
back because they're (School Board) not saying let's rethink this, " said Deborah van Arink, legal counsel for the
Native American group, who spoke from her Illinois office Tuesday. " They've basically backed people into a corner'.
As part of the investigation, Baca requests the board answer 14 questions
evaluating "whether there has been a
violation of federal law."
If the Department of Justice finds the board has broken any civil rights
policies, disciplinary actions could be
taken, including peeling back federal dollars, Baca said.
The board has 30 days to comply with the request. Currie said that the
board will cooperate, but that he may
object to such questions in the six-page letter as:
-when the Erwin High mascots were adopted
-provide all board and school correspondence regarding the issue
-describing the race of all board members.
Currie said school officials will discuss the issue in closed session during its regular meeting on Feb. 4.
Currie couldn't comment on whether the board will defend its position
or settle if a lawsuit is filed. Board members
were unable to comment on the situation.