Asheville Citizen Times -  Asheville NC
January 29, 1999


Erwin Issue Clouds Impressive Gains by Students

Some really good things have been happening at Clyde A. Erwin High School over the
last few years.

Just 12 students were on the "A" honor roll at the end of the first six weeks of 1992-93.
Ninety-nine were on the "B" honor roll. Compare that with the 25 who were on the "A" honor
roll and the 237 who were on the "B" honor roll at the end of the first six weeks in 1998-99.
Out of a student body of about 1,100 students the number failing at least one subject
dropped from 573 in the fist six weeks of 1992-93 to 295 in the first six weeks of 1998-99.
The percentage of students dropping out of school deceased from 11.2 percent during
1992-93 to 6.9 percent during 1996-97, the last year for which the percentages are available.

Numbers like these reflect the hard work of administrators and teachers focused on key
goals adopted when the school went to a four-period day. They also reflect the hard work of the
students who have responded to that effort.

The school ought to be getting attention for these impressive improvements. Instead, it's
about to get a truckload of very undesirable attention for its refusal to change the name of its
mascots. The U. S.Justice Department has launched an investigation into the controversy over
the decision by the school, despite protects from American Indians who find the names offensive,
to continue calling its sports teams the "Warriors" and "Squaws."

Last year, the Buncombe County Board of Education dodged the difficult and
controversial decision about whether to change the names by passing the buck to the students.
Letting the students decide may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it's now obvious
that the board irresponsibly placed a decision that could have devastating ramification for the
whole school system into the hands of students at one high school who had no way of knowing
all the potential implications.

The investigation and a threatened lawsuit will consume money, staff time and other
resources that could much better be devoted to educating students. A Justice Department
investigation can go beyond the mascot issue and look at the school system's hiring practices, its
policies, and virtually any other aspect of school administration.
But most devastating of all, the school system could lose its federal funding--8 to 10
percent of its total budget.

In retrospect, many thought placing the decision in the hands of the students as a fair and
just solution to the controversy. After all, the students were the ones being affected.
But now it's not just the students. The implication are now for the entire system, and the
stakes are high.

The potential national publicity and resulting stigmatization that come with a federal
investigation into a high-profile civil rights issue would not only be unwelcome, it would be
unfair to the students, and adds another dimension to the need for the board to accept its rightful
responsibility to make a decision about the mascot issue.

Erwin Principal Malcolm Brown thinks the mascot names should be changed, but also
thinks his students were told it was their decision and that it sends a very bad message to them to
tell them otherwise now.
"....I don't think you teach young people about diversity and differences by taking an
issue so emotional to kids and just saying we're changing it. It creates hostility and suspicion
about the way adults deal with young people," Brown said.

During the three months his students received education about why American Indians
find the mascot names objectionable, Brown said he way about half of them go from being
opposed to changing the names to supporting the idea. He'd like to see the education process

"High school students will make a good decision in time," he said.

Unfortunately, the school board doesn't have time. It's facing an investigation and the
threat of a lawsuit now. The only responsible course it can take is to act immediately to change
the names. It is not fair to taxpayers or students to waste money defending an indefensible
position on an issue that is at best peripheral to the education process.
But the board owes it to the students at Erwin to go to the school, meet with them and
explain itself.

The time has come to let kids be kids and adults be adults. This is now an adult matter,
and we should exercise the adult imperative to do what's best for our kids. The ball is in our

But we should still let the students he as much of a say as possible. Perhaps choosing
new mascot names for their school, a decision that rightfully should be theirs, will give them a
new opportunity to express their loyalty to and pride in their school.