- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

The Montgomery County Board of Education yesterday ordered Poolesville High School to change the nickname of its sports teams, alter its uniforms and repaint its scoreboards by the time school starts next year because the word "Indians" was considered offensive to American Indians.
After an hourlong debate on whether the board had the authority to take the action without first adding more specific language to its human relations policy, board members voted 7-1 that Poolesville's nickname was "inconsistent" with a policy that obliged staff to create a "welcoming climate for all."
"It is not Poolesville's intentions, I am certain of that, to offend," said school Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who submitted a plan of his own to rename the teams. "They are a great community, and they have wrestled with this issue."
But for Erin Pittenger, who is part Cherokee and has a son at Poolesville High, the move was a slap in the face. "It's just wrong," she said after the board decision.
Parents and students at Poolesville voted by a 60 percent majority in May to retain the name on the understanding that the school board considered team names a local issue.
"We didn't vote the way they wanted us to, so they overturned it," Mrs. Pittenger said.
Board member Steve Abrams said the Poolesville vote was nothing more than a straw poll and that the board was not obligated to abide by its results. "Poolesville was never directed to conduct a vote," he said. "The fact is the authority rested here."
"There will be some disappointment among community members," said Poolesville Principal Mark E. Levine. "We'll get through this mascot issue, and we'll try to make it as pleasant as possible."
Richard Regan, a Lumbee Cheraw Indian who serves on the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, claimed victory. Two weeks ago, state officials told commission members they had exceeded their authority when they called for a boycott of the sponsors of a Little League group in Germantown that used the names "Braves" and "Indians."
"I'm pleased after eight months that the largest and richest school district finally had the guts to deal with this," Mr. Regan said, adding that "we've got 12 other jurisdictions to address."
Mr. Regan said the commission has discussed a similar resolution with Harford County officials.
Mr. Weast said the school system would pay for the changes at Poolesville, which could cost as much as $80,000.
That may not be enough. The town recently repainted its water tower with the words "Go Indians" on the side that faces the football field.
"In terms of the water tower, I suspect we will have to help them pick up the cost of that," said Mr. Abrams, who voted for the measure.
Board members Nancy King, Kevin Burnett, Walter Lange, Patricia O'Neill and student member Dustin Jeter also voted for the measure, proposed by board member Reginald Felton.
The lone dissenting vote came from board member Sharon Cox, who wondered if the school system next would have to ban clothing displaying the logo of the National Football League's Washington Redskins because it might be offensive.
"I am concerned about the line between being reasonable and absurd," she said.
Mr. Levine said a committee likely will be formed to suggest other nicknames.
The action makes Montgomery County's school board the first in the state to address the issue after the state Board of Education adopted a nonbinding resolution in July calling for local boards to help end American Indian team names in schools.
About 30 schools in the state use names like "Indians," "Braves" and "Warriors."
Other Poolesville residents expressed displeasure with the change.
"I'm a Poolesville Indian from my high school days [playing sports], and I still am," said Michael Selby, 37, an owner and manager of his family's grocery that is a longtime fixture in town.
"I think it's ridiculous — no one used it for a bad connotation. All of us use it to show fierceness, dedication, pride — all good connotations. Pretty soon you won't be able to use a person's name for a school [because of someone's objections]."
Farmer Charles T. Jamison suggested the change was foreseeable.
"It seems to be the fashionable thing to do," Mr. Jamison said. "Really, in the end, if it makes the Indians happy, so be it. I suppose if it were on their gambling halls, I don't suppose they'd mind, would they? In the scheme of things, does it really matter?"
County council member Nancy Dacek, Germantown Republican, said in a press release that banning "school sports teams from using such nicknames as 'Indians' and 'Warrriors' is just not a good idea."
"Such names are not pejoratives. And, we must ask, what's next?" she said.
Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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