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The fight over a proud school’s mascot

In the past couple of weeks, the Bellefonte Area School Board faced a pair of critical decisions.

With all due respect, it failed both times.

First, on April 13, the board voted 8-1 in a special meeting to remove all Native American imagery from the district.

That means the Red Raider logo will go from everything — from school-issued handbooks to big-ticket items — such as the basketball court at the high school.

Like it or not, the logo will soon disappear.

Then, at a second meeting on April 27, the board voted 6-3 to remove the word “Red,” but keep “Raiders.”

That vote came on the heels of the public meeting that lasted five hours and featured more than 100 members of the community speaking during public comment.

One after one, parents, families, alumni, current students and taxpayers took turns speaking.

Each had three minutes to speak.

The overwhelming majority asked the board to keep “Red Raiders.”

Since this discussion began close to a year ago, the public has shown its support for the longtime school nickname.

There have been T-shirts, banners, flags and signs. Take a drive through the Bellefonte community. They’re still there. A “Keep the Bellefonte Logo” Facebook group has thousands of members.

The school board chose not to fully consider the sentiments of a majority of their constituents.

Now, the school must remove all Native American imagery and re-brand its logo by the end of the year.

Make no mistake about it, this will not be easy — or inexpensive.

The district will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-brand the schools and athletic facilities.

All the items that say “Red Raiders” — from the scoreboards to the track and field hurdles — will need to be replaced. Again, not an easy task, to say the least.

It’s also unlikely that the re-branding will be a quick and seamless process.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, board member Jeff Steiner said he “cautioned the board about heading down this path last year.”

Many of those who spoke on Tuesday night said the board appeared to have no plan.

They may be right.

The imagery will soon be gone.

However, the board had a chance to save face Wednesday. It didn’t.

District residents could be facing property tax increase to balance the budget for the coming school year.

And, the board must regroup and focus on more important issues: Vetting the need for a new elementary school, updating buildings for function, energy savings and technology and helping students improve grades and standardized test scores.

The mascot and nickname talk should have been shelved, at least until the pandemic is over. Instead, it appears board members catered to a small group that stirred the pot and drove the discussion.

There is “politically correct” and there is common sense and sentiment … the sentiment of honoring the region’s Native American past and teaching that past in classes.

Not painting the broad brush of, “it’s racist.”

In many districts across America, school boards have stood up to assert that long-standing names and logos honor that past.

Unfortunately, for the residents of Bellefonte, that didn’t happen.

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