Native American mascots, themes to be replaced in Florida school district

The Hillsborough County School District says the mascots and logos for six of its schools need an update. Native American imagery is at the center of each school's branding and the district has declared native logos antiquated symbols that "easily reduce living human beings to the level of a cartoon."

Two other high schools are being asked to change rituals and dances, even though their logos will remain.

Logos at five elementary schools -- Brooker, Forest Hills, Thonotosassa, Summerfield, and Ruskin -- will be scrapped, along with Adams Middle.

The district worked with a parent advisory group of Native American students to make the decision.

"That is just not something that you want to represent a culture," said spokesperson Tanya Arja. "It can be offensive even when you do not have a bad intent to do that."

Before choosing a new mascot, students and staff will make suggestions for replacements. Students and their families will then vote.

"It is really an opportunity for students and staff and families at these schools to create something new that represents their student body and the future of where the school is going," said Arja.

The district is also ordering changes at two high schools that use Native American themes: The Chamberlain Chiefs and the East Bay Indians won't lose their logos or names, but they do have to stop doing chants and dances that invoke Native American rituals.

For instance, a bow and arrow maneuver will have to stop.

"We don't want to disrespect anybody," said East Bay softball coach Glenn Rodriguez. "If they think the cheers are hurting them in any way shape or form, then we are here to work any way we possibly can to help out."

In allowing high schools to keep their logos but change rituals, the district said high school students are "better prepared to understand the differences and sensitivities around cultures."

Districtwide, 460 students out of 200,000 are Native American.

"We are educating our students and we want to make sure we educate them in the right way," said Arja. "That is about being responsible to our community, as well."

Ballots will be sent home with students at the impacted schools by the end of this week. New mascots will be announced next week.