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April 27, 2001
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News Article
Proponent, Interim School Director, Discuss Ending Use Of Indian Names
By: By BILL JONES/Staff Writer
Source: The Greeneville Sun

Pat Merzlak, a Mosheim resident who wants to see the Greene County School System stop using sports team mascots with American Indian names, discussed that issue with Dr. Joe Parkins, interim director of schools, on Wednesday morning.

Merzlak is the mother of two children of American Indian descent who attend Mosheim Elementary School, where the sports teams are known as the “Indians.”

Other Greene County schools with Indian mascot names include DeBusk Elementary (the Braves) and Glenwood Elementary (the Chiefs).

During a Wednesday afternoon interview, Merzlak said she reiterated her position during a morning meeting with Parkins, who was named interim director of schools during the April 19 meeting of the Greene County Board of Education.

In a separate interview, Dr. Parkins said he had met with Merzlak and planned to review information she had left with him. “They’re very sincere people, and I sympathize with them,” Parkins said. “I told them I would take their concerns under advisement and would discuss those concerns with the school board and our principals.”

Parkins also noted that he planned to contact the state Department of Education, the Tennessee School Boards Association and other school systems to see how the American Indian mascot issue is being handled elsewhere in Tennessee.

He noted that he could make no commitment to Merzlak about action on her request. “It’s not my place to do so,” he said.

Merzlak noted that she told Parkins that she and her husband, Don, are not seeking an “immediate change,” but would like to see the school board commit to ending the use of American Indian names as sports team mascots in county schools.

“We have no interest in causing money to be immediately spent on this issue and will certainly work with the system,” she said. “Other school systems have successfully made the changes.”

Merzlak also noted that she finds it curious that, while the school system’s “zero tolerance” policy prohibits weapons in schools, Mosheim Elementary has a caricature of an Indian with weapons on its gymnasium wall.

She also noted that she informed Parkins that the top education official in the state of New York has asked all school systems in that state to stop using American Indian mascots.

A memo from New York Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills stated:

“After careful thought and consideration, I have concluded that the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students.

“I ask superintendents and presidents of school boards to lead their communities to a new understanding of this matter. I ask boards to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical.”

Merzlak also said she told Parkins that a lawsuit that seeks to end the use of Indian names as sports mascots is expected to be filed next month against the Houston, Texas, school system.

Appeared Before Board

In March, Merzlak appeared before the Greene County Board of Education and asked for an end to the use of Indian names and symbols in connection with school sports teams.

The county school board took no action on Merzlak’s request in March.

On Friday, April 13, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a statement that called for an end to use of Native American images and nicknames as sports symbols.

“It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still to be found in educational institutions, whether elementary, secondary or post-secondary,” the statement said in part.

“Schools are places where diverse groups of people come together to learn not only the ‘3 Rs,’ but also how to interact respectfully with people from different cultures. The use of stereotypical images of Native Americans by educational institutions has the potential to create a racially hostile educational environment that may be intimidating to Indian students.

“American Indians have the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation and even lower college attendance and graduation rates. The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes may exacerbate these problems.”

The Asheville Citizen-Times editorialized on April 18 on the issue of American Indian mascots.

“Opponents of the change in schools’ mascots refer to the tradition that they hope will endure,” the editorial said in part. “But the larger issue is that Indian parents have a right to expect the public schools to nourish their children with respect in an environment that is conducive to learning.”

The editorial noted that the ruling by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission will not end contentious debate about Indian mascots but “might help prompt a reforming mentality.”

Also earlier this month, according to The Roanoke Times, of Roanoke, Va., the Montgomery County (Va.) School board voted to approve a policy “that prohibits any race, religion, ethnicity or nationality as a mascot or logo in the district.” Schools in that Virginia county have until July 1, 2003, to comply with the new policy.

See related article of Merzlaks' presentation to Board

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