As our local school district’s communications and community relations specialist, navigating topics like changing Pocatello High School’s mascot presents a challenge. It is my responsibility to communicate information to the public, and it is also my responsibility to help foster lasting and meaningful connections between the school district and its key stakeholders.
When the information shared from my office is unpopular or controversial, the need to prioritize these two roles becomes even more pronounced. While I understand the importance to give voice to those both in opposition to and in support of this controversial issue, my goal with this editorial is to correct the misinformation that has circulated about this topic.
Longstanding history of Board members in the Pocatello/Chubbuck community
In an article printed last week, a former PHS student body president stated, “He wishes that our school board members had a longer history in our community.” ISJ printed a correction on Thursday that deserves further elaboration.
Mrs. Jackie Cranor is native to Pocatello and has lived here the majority of her life, graduating from Pocatello High School in 1968. For more than 20 years, she taught elementary school and volunteered in district schools. Her children and many of her 13 grandchildren have attended district schools. Mrs. Cranor has served on the school board for 11 years.
Mr. Jim Facer is also native to Pocatello. He and his children attended Lewis & Clark Elementary School, Alameda Middle School and Pocatello High School.
His father also attended Pocatello High School. Mr. Facer has four grandchildren attending PCSD 25 schools and his daughter teaches elementary school here. Mr. Facer has served on the board for five years combined.
Mrs. Janie Gebhardt moved to Pocatello in 2000. She has served on the school board for 14 years. She served for six years as a board member on the Idaho School Boards Association and has served in various capacities on the Interfaith Council since 2004. She is currently the chair of 2 Great 4 Hate and is a longstanding member of Zonta.
Mr. Dave Mattson moved to Pocatello when he was 18 years old in 1968 after he was recruited to play football for the Idaho State University Bengals (1968-1971). He has lived, worked and raised a family in the community for nearly 50 years. His son-in-law is a long-term teacher and coach. He has served on the board since 2013 and is the current chair.
Mr. Paul Vitale has called Pocatello home for more than 40 years. He was employed by PCSD 25 for 12 years as a social worker/counselor. His children and grandchildren graduated from Pocatello High School. He has been involved in community organizations, including the St. Vincent De Paul Society. Mr. Vitale was elected to the school board in 2012.
Clearly, the Trustees each have a longstanding history in the community.
Transparency and timing
As the governing body of the school district, the board is frequently asked to consider and make decisions based on administrative recommendations. The request to consider retiring the Pocatello High School Indian mascot is one example of the diverse and consequential issues brought before the board by the district’s administrators, many of whom are lifelong educators. When issues are brought to the board in this manner, it is the responsibility of that administrator to perform the extensive due diligence required to educate and inform the board with data and science-based evidence to support such a recommendation.
The recommendation to retire the Indians mascot was vetted by the superintendent and district administrators before it was addressed to the board. In addition to research and educational best practices, the recommendation was grounded in the following: (1) the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ 2019 position paper on the use of Native American mascots; (2) a letter dated Aug. 12, 2020, from the acting chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Business Council reiterating the tribes’ position on retiring the use of Native American mascots; and (3) a meeting between members of the school district and the Shoshone-Bannock Business Council on Sept. 3. PCSD 25 members in attendance at that meeting include Dave Mattson and Paul Vitale, trustees; Dr. Douglas Howell, superintendent; Sue Pettit, director of secondary education; Principal Lisa Delonas; and myself.
Throughout her tenure, Mrs. Delonas has demonstrated that she is a fierce advocate for her learners and her staff. As it is within her purview to do as the school’s administrator, Mrs. Delonas facilitated the work of the mascot selection advisory committee to help envision a viable mascot replacement that would complement the school’s history and heritage of being the Indians.
All meetings about this issue were held lawfully and legally noticed to the public when applicable. Meetings must be publicly noticed when more than two board members are present.
Part of the role of the school board is to forge consensus. That consensus is not always possible with a divisive issue. Board members have been receptive, reflective and respectful in their responses. From its onset, the board has solicited public feedback. The first press release issued on Sept. 3, following the meeting with the business council, states, “Public comments may be directed to email@example.com.” The district has continued to collect community input for the board to evaluate. The board has made it a priority to engage the district’s stakeholders in the selection of a new mascot, including a new survey released on Wednesday.
Native American mascots harm Native American students
This issue has resurfaced over the past 60 years. At its core, the Indian mascot is in conflict with the district’s core mission to provide the highest quality access to equitable education to its learners.
According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still to be found in educational institutions, whether elementary, secondary or post-secondary. Schools are places where diverse groups of people come together to learn not only the ‘Three 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.”
According to the National Congress of American Indians tracking database for its “Ending ‘Indian’ Mascots” initiative, 60 schools, including Pocatello High School, have retired mascots with Native American themes in 2020.
School districts are increasingly required to embrace the value of diversity in educational practice and apply those principles in both words and actions. As elected officials representing a broad constituency of stakeholders, the Board is charged with the careful consideration of any such matters brought to their attention.
Sometimes the most courageous, authentic leaders must simply do what is right, not what is popular. I am proud to work for an organization that values and prioritizes diversity in education and has heeded the stance of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights rather than remaining one of those institutions who “have simply failed to listen to the Native groups, religious leaders, and civil rights organizations that oppose these symbols.”
Courtney Fisher is the Communications and Community Relations Specialist for the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25. She is a native of Pocatello and graduated from Pocatello High School in 1991 where she was active in cheerleading, basketball, track, and numerous clubs and organizations.