Board agrees to leave door open for compromise and commits to not using public funds for change

In a 4-1 vote late Tuesday, the Teton County School Board agreed to retire the 90-year-old Redskin name after months of debate and public outcry to both keep and change Teton High School mascot. The board agreed to leave the door open to consider other symbolic Native American representations for the high school.

School board member Mary Mello made the first motion during the 4 1/2 hour meeting to retire the Redskin mascot as school board member Ben Kearsley pushed back throughout the discussion asking the board to give the decision more time for community input.

“My concern about the motion tonight is that we leave some stakeholders behind,” Kearsley said. “I think we should continue the dialogue. If we need to meet in another week, then we hold another meeting in a week. Let’s make a plan for the plan.”

Tuesday’s meeting brought out almost 150 members of the public to the Driggs Elementary School gym, many dressed in “Save the Redskins” t-shirts and Redskins team jerseys and uniforms. On the heels of last week’s school board meeting in which Kearsley urged the board to take more time ahead of a decision, the board struggled Tuesday to come to a board vote with many in attendance staying to very end.

“We all agree that a vote tonight would be a disservice to the valley,” valley resident Adam Berry said during the meeting. “We in the community are not in a place to compromise. The wound is too deep.”

Still others called for a decision, any decision to simply move forward.

“I do appreciate when we have a chance to dialogue and understand each other,” said Peter McKellar, another resident of the valley. “I also don’t know what more information there is to hear. I worry that if we delay, the divide will get bigger. We need to take the next step, find out the goal, and plan around that.”

Mascot meeting

School Board member Mary Mello addresses a small group during the Teton School Board working meeting on July 16. Members of the public broke into small groups to discuss the Teton High School mascot.

School board member Jake Kunz agreed that in order for the community to move forward, the board needed to make a decision.

At one point during the meeting, Chair Chris Issacson stopped the meeting to talk privately with a member of the state school board association and Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme in an attempt to regain order.

When the meeting resumed, Mello made the motion again to retire the Redskin mascot.

Kunz then asked for a motion amendment. Kunz, who was appointed to the board a little over nine months ago, asked that only the name Redskin be retired, offering up hope that by retiring only the name, this left the door open to include other Native American symbolism as a representation of the high school. This suggestion was met with applause from the crowd. He also asked that no public funds be used to change any of the Redskin signage or uniforms. Woolstenhulme had reported at the start of the meeting that it would cost about $30,000 to replace uniforms and signage if the Redskin mascot were to retire.

Mello agreed with Kunz and amended her motion. School board member Nan Pugh seconded Mello’s motion. Kearsley voted against the motion with Mello, Kunz, Pugh and Issacson favoring the motion to retire the Redskin name at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Randy’L Teton, Public Affairs spokesperson for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe who has been an active voice in the five-month debate in Teton County, said after the meeting that she was pleased to see the name retired, adding again that the word was a racial slur. She and elders of the Fort Hall Reservation have advocated for the mascot name to change since it was first brought forward in 2013 by Woolstenhulme. Since then the Nez Perce Tribe in Northern Idaho has advocated for the change as well.