Letter from the Board Regarding Mascot Decision

Letter from the Board Regarding Mascot Decision
Image: Man writing a letter

June 26, 2020


Dear Pascack Valley Regional High School District Community,


The Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education is responsible for policy-making that ensures that the best educational environment for our students is provided for in a fiscally-responsible manner, while safeguarding the assets and reputation of our District.  


As described by the New Jersey School Boards Association:

  • “Board members are community representatives. That means representing the entire community, not just the area in which they live or their particular supporters. Board members have a responsibility to listen to all citizens and to explain to those with a particular point of view the needs of the school system as a whole.”

  • “Above all, board members are responsible for and to all the students in the schools. Every policy they approve and every action they take needs to be based on what is best for the education of students.


One of our goals to support this responsibility is to advance the work of inclusivity and equity throughout the district by expanding institutional awareness, establishing stronger connections with marginalized groups, and engaging students and regional partners.  This goal is set to create an educational environment where the mutual contributions of all races, genders, religions, and cultures accept, respect, and learn from one another.


The Board’s recent decision to retire the traditional nicknames of the high schools is consistent with our responsibilities and this goal. While some have criticized that this significant decision seems to have come without careful consideration, to the contrary, this is a process that has been ongoing for 16 years.  Discussions regarding the logos and nicknames began in earnest in 2004 and 2005 as both Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills debated these issues.  Over the years, but even more so in recent times, it became clear in no uncertain terms that a significant number of our administrators, staff, current students, alumni, and members of the community are not supportive of the traditional nicknames, and are offended, marginalized, and/or embarrassed by the nicknames and mascots.  


Mascots and nicknames that offend a significant portion of our school communities cannot be endorsed and continued as a policy of the District.


This decision was not, and could not be, reached based on popularity or polls; rather, this decision is founded on principles.  Our decision had to be based exclusively on what now is in the best interests of our students in 2020 and moving forward.


Below is what guided our decision to retire the mascots:

  • Presentations and communications citing personal experiences, academic studies, and viewpoints of organizations noting how these mascots are offensive.

  • Both mascots portray a male oriented perspective, forcing female students associated with our schools into this perspective.

  • The NCAA, the umbrella organization of college athletics, rejects Native American nicknames for member institutions.

  • The mascots promote rivalry between our schools, when in fact, many of our teams, clubs, and community integrated organizations have our schools working together - not as rivals.


We anticipated criticism over this decision.  There have been three main points of criticism that we must respond to as we continue to make decisions in a transparent way to our community.

  • Late night decision making” - The pandemic has our Board meetings now available to people through Zoom, where they can actively participate during the public comment portions of the meeting from anywhere.  As a result, we have had more attendance and participation at our Board meetings than ever before.  The June 22 and June 25 meetings in particular were largely attended.  In fact, on June 25, the scheduled agenda was to address year-end business and future goals; but with over 500 people in attendance, the Board felt compelled to listen to further comments from the public on this matter.  Decisions are always made in public view, with this one having more of the public’s view than most.

  • Cost - There has been wide speculation as to the cost.  Our Board has an intimate knowledge of our budget, scrutinizes our expenditures, and does not believe that it will be burdensome to the District to phase out the nicknames. Electronic media is, and has already been, edited at no cost. Printed stationery has not included mascot logos in recent years.  Team uniforms are replaced on a regular basis. School facilities are maintained and painted in the ordinary course. These individual decisions will be made progressively and addressed in an appropriate and responsible timetable by the district’s administration, with our supervision.

  • Respecting those who want to stay with tradition - We do not endorse a position, expressed or implied, that those who support the traditional nicknames are racist or hold values that are unworthy of respect.  There are people who support the current nicknames who are genuine in their own personally-held beliefs that the nicknames represent honorable qualities such as courage, community, and honor.  They were proud in the sincerest of ways to model these attributes while students at our schools.  Our disagreement with this position is not a cause for division, but rather, to work together to understand all perspectives as we move forward toward names and mascots that unify our community.


The now absence of any nicknames for “Valley” and “Hills” creates a great space for discussion about how we have reached this point and to dialogue about where the community is going from here.  We want to build a district brand that brings all of us together.  


There is room for everyone in this discussion; for those who support inclusivity, for those who want to comment on stereotyping and equity issues, and just as importantly, those who support the history and traditions of our schools, the best of which we value and must maintain.


We look forward to doing this work together.


Sincerely,


Tammy Molinelli, Board President

Janet Bissinger, Board Vice President

Brian Hallowell, Board Member

Kenneth Ralph, Board Member

Arnold Scher, Board Member

James Stankus, Board Member

David Steinberg, Board Member


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