Opinion Schools Sports

Op-Ed: ‘Shame on You.’ The Board of Education Makes a Mockery of the ‘Process’

West Hartford resident and attorney Scott Zweig urges the Board of Education to actively seek input from the public and not fast-track a decision about whether or not to change the Hall and Conard high school nicknames.

By Scott Zweig

On Feb. 1, the voting majority of the West Hartford Board of Education (the “Board”) will put their personal beliefs ahead of the interests of the more than 64,000 people they claim to serve.

Next week, the Board will vote on the continued use of “Warriors” and “Chieftains” as the team names for Hall and Conard high schools. Despite retiring all Native American logos and imagery in 2012 (Hall) and 2015 (Conard), the Board now wishes to take it one step further. Under the guise of new legislation and Board policy, they are fast tracking a change that the people of this town never asked for.

I understand and agree with the previous decision to remove insensitive Native American imagery and mascots from our schools. I am also in favor of enhancing our curriculum to include more emphasis on Native American history and culture. But to claim that the word “Warrior” is uniquely and inextricably linked to Native American culture or traditions and is therefore racist is a fallacy. Since the days of the early Roman Empire and ancient Greece, the term “Warrior” has been used to describe brave and courageous fighters. More recently, the term has been used to describe the men and women of our armed forces who are seriously injured in battle (Wounded Warriors), individuals who fight for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community (Rainbow Warriors), and people who battle cancer (Cancer Warrior), just to name a few. Are those cultural appropriations of Native American culture?

I understand that some people may not agree with my position and that is OK. We live in a society where everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. But I cannot accept a blatant abuse of power and lack of a comprehensive, transparent process.

In 2015, when this issue was last up for debate, the Board actively sought community input. They held a public forum, attended by more than 250 people, where 60 individuals stood up and made their voices heard. Students and staff cast their votes. After listening to the people, the Board voted unanimously to retire the logos and mascots, but retain the team names. It was described as a compromise and welcomed by the community. Since that day, our schools and administrators have made tremendous progress looking forward and disassociating our team names from the past. We are moving forward, creating new images and traditions. So why is the Board so focused on looking backwards?

Here we are again, seven years later and the issue has resurfaced. But did the Board hold a public forum this time? No. Did the Board actively seek input from the community? No. Instead, they quickly and quietly raised the issue for the first time in nearly seven years at a Board meeting on Dec. 7, 2021. However, instead of voting to establish a process or committee to research, review and consider the matter, they set it for a vote just 57 days later. Why the hurry? Well, the answer is obvious. The sooner they vote, the less time people will have to make their voices heard.

One might expect that with an emotional and controversial issue such as this, that the Board would devote some time to the subject during the TWO Board meetings leading up to the vote. They did not. Instead, the Board quietly waits for next Tuesday, when they can force their decision down our throats. Is that what we want from our elected officials? Of course not. Instead, we expect openness and transparency on issues like this that impact the community.

For example, look at neighboring Canton, one of the eight districts in Connecticut with a school that currently uses the Warrior name. They formed a committee in the spring of 2020, comprised of members of the community. They held meetings, actively sought public comment and even circulated a survey to students. In total, they deliberated for nearly six months before providing a series of recommendations to their Board of Education. The decision was unanimous: retire all Native American imagery and maintain the Warrior name. In some ways, Canton’s process reminds me of the process that we underwent in 2015. However, despite showing the ability to follow a public process in 2015, our current Board is simply taking matters into its own hands.

It should be noted that this issue is not unique to West Hartford. In all, there are eight high schools in Connecticut that currently use the Warrior name: Canton; Norwich Tech; Valley Regional (serving Chester, Deep River, and Essex); Wamogo Regional (serving Warren, Morris, and Goshen); Wilton; Windsor; Watertown; and Hall (West Hartford).

It is my understanding that only West Hartford is contemplating a change. In fact, after extensive review, several districts, including Canton, Wamogo, and Wilton are standing behind their team names, after removing all previous Native American imagery. Is there a reason why West Hartford is not capable of a similar process, regardless of the outcome?

The NBAs Golden State Warriors used a classically stereotypical and offensive Native American image from 1946 to 1969. Then, in 1969  they changed their logo to the Golden Gate Bridge. They’ve had some variations over the years, including a basketball with an outline of the state of California and a blue figure holding a lightning bolt. But they have clearly moved away from imagery that is considered offensive but kept their name, carving a new meaning for it. It was my hope that Hall could do the same.

If the Board is willing to establish a formal process or create a committee, comprised of members of the community, to review this issue, hold public forums, and actively engage in discussions, then any decision they make will have credibility. If after all that, the Board decides to retire the Warrior name, then so be it. But, in the absence of a comprehensive and transparent process, their decision will be unacceptable. The Board may claim that this vote is a “continuation” of a process that started in 2015. That simply is not true. In fact, the Board has not publicly uttered a word about this issue in nearly seven years.

Conveniently, and only after I and others requested it, did the Board create a page on the West Hartford Public Schools website containing documentation they refer to as “School Mascot Resources.” Clearly, publishing these materials less than a week before the vote and not making their existence widely known is an attempt by the Board to create the “appearance” that they are interested in community feedback and transparency, when the die have already been cast. Why was this information not made available in December, or earlier? Remember, Public Act 21-2, the legislation they are using as a vehicle for this change, was effective July 1, 2021 – 210 days ago. Yet they did not speak a word about it publicly until Dec. 7, 2021 – 159 days later. Why the delay? Is it possible they were unaware of the legislation? No. They waited five months so they could bury the issue over the December holidays, during a nationwide surge in COVID-19, to silence any possible opposition.

It is clear that the majority of the Board members have already made up their minds on this issue. The vote is merely a formality. They will cancel the names that have been associated with Hall and Conard high school since the 1950s, without so much as a meaningful dialogue with the community they claim to serve.

Regardless of your position on whether the team names should stay or go, we should all be able to agree on one thing: West Hartford deserves a comprehensive and transparent process that the Board failed to deliver. Shame on them.

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  • First and foremost, I applaud this well-researched Op-Ed. ​This Town and its citizens deserve much better from their elected officials – regardless of the subject and/or outcome. If the BOE is indeed “railroading” something through – something that was more thoroughly debated and decided a short six years ago – then that is absolutely shameful.

    When I look at the current Hall “HW” logo I see something more akin to a shield and a knight – aka a medieval “warrior”. I would never associate this with anything having to do with Native Americans. I assume this was the entire intent of the 2015 decision?

    To continue what Mr. Zweig writes, an NFL team with almost the same nickname as our other HS (and which plays this weekend) went through a nearly identical process to the one our BOE of did approximately five years ago. They decided the name was worthy of keeping, while dropping certain imagery, and seizing the opportunity to educate and create awareness:

    Sounds pretty smart, and I would imagine that is exactly what our BOE was thinking when they made their previous decision.

    Finally, it should be noted that while many offensive nicknames have rightly been removed from professional teams sports, many still remain as they provide an homage to those groups. For example, the Seminole tribe stands firmly behind the use of their name:

    Is our BOE is now intent on doing the exact opposite of what was decided as a very reasonable compromise just a few short years ago? At the minimum, our elected officials should clearly articulate what exactly has changed since they last spoke about this in 2015.

    • 100 year old West Hartford WII Veterean was honored last month by West Hartford. He was proudly wearing his regimeny’s insignia, a Native America Thunderbird. The Thunderbird is still worn by the U.S. Army 45th Division. The Stmy today had a Crazyhorse named division. Former Hall Principal Dr. Slater, was a teal warrior in the Itaq Desert Storm. A former Hall 1974 classmate of mine eas half Native American and today sees no issues with the use of the nicknames. The sport of Lacrosse plaued at Hall and Conard originates from Native Americans. The West Hartford Town Mayor addressed our veterans this past Memorial Day and teferred to them as warriors. The West Town Council and Mayor last month had a photo shoot with Cub Scouts, I wonder if that was offending Native Ameticans use of the word scouts. I wonder why our President is referred to as Commandet in Chief or is having Chief Justices also an offending word use. Now back to clearing snow from this weekend warrior.

    • The West Hartford Mayor, last month, honored Ben Cooper, a WWII Army Veteran who turned 100. Ben proudly was shown wearing his Division insignia of the 45th Infantry, a Native American Thunderbird, His Division still has the insignia. The West Hartford Town Manager last Memorial Day referred to our veterans as Warriors. Our President is Commander in Chief. We have Chief Justices, Joint Chiefs of Staff representing all branches of our military. Warriors and Chieftans are honoring all Americans, removing the nicknames dishonors many. I am a cancer survivor, many of us are referred to as warriors. A Native American, classmate of 1974, sees no disrespect. A former Hall Principal was a true Warrior, Dr. Slater.

  • I grew up in West Hartford and still live in the area. I can recall I heard a lot and knew a lot about Indians then. Unfortunately, after my long-lost town is done removing logos, symbols, and names, etc., we eventually won’t find any references to Indians. Memories erased. And so, the next generation will grow up in WH and never see a reference to a people was once called Indians. Congratulations WH.

  • Can you imagine if all this energy was used to uplift instead of clinging to supremacist arguments and tropes. Glad the names are changing!

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