In a 4-1 vote, the board of the Forest Hills School District voted Thursday to do away with Anderson Township High School's "Redskins" logo and mascot. The meeting came in response to recent calls on social media and a petition for the name to go, though the debate goes back decades.
Board President Dr. Forest Heis said the board received over 2,000 emails on the matter, both for and against the change. "When this first started my first thought was, 'What am I going to do to keep the Redskins?' " he said during the virtual meeting Thursday afternoon.
Heis said he grew up going to Anderson games and so understands the love people have for that legacy, adding that such people "are not racist. I firmly believe that."
Still, he said, "now we have adminstrators walking a tightrope," not knowing if they can say "Go 'Skins!" when they see a student. He talked about one administrator who sends the same email to two different lists: one with the Redskins logo, and one without.
"What I want for our flagship school is, I want my athletic director, I want my principal to stand up in a gym and raise his or her hand and say, 'Go whatever!' and all the kids can participate and there's no friction over a mascot."
Board Member Leslie Rasmussen faced less of a struggle in deciding her vote. "I realize that I present white but I am an Indian and Latina woman from South Texas," she said. "And I know what I have seen, and what my parents have seen, and what the families I have grown up with have seen. I lived in Mississippi for three years and saw so much pain. And if there's anything I can do to help with that, I have to. I just have to."
Board Member Patty Taylor was the lone dissenting vote. She asked the vote be delayed until a period of public input could take place, adding that emails "don't count."
She said she voted "no" for three reasons: because the district is making a decision without a plan or money in place; the district's spending is already "out of control;" and that this is not the "regular process and not the will of the majority of residents."
"I'm against the method without public input before a vote," she said. "If this was reversed you would not like how this is happening."
She added that she disagrees with changing the name and that does not make her a racist.
"I'm not a racist and I refuse to accept that," she said.
The district does not yet have a plan as to how it will remove or replace the now-retired mascot, though Forest Hills' Superindentent Scott Preble did outline some ideas he had gathered from other schools who had already undergone the process. He said whatever process the board chooses, it should be comprehensive, clearly communicated, and inclusive of financial considerations.
Earlier this week, Dr. Heis said one estimate for changing everything with the logo and mascot at the same time came to a million dollars. Board Member Elizabeth Barber countered that a report from 2018, the last time the district considered the mascot, put the cost between $450,000 and $600,000.
The original mascot for Anderson High, The Comets, dates back to the school's founding. Heis says in 1936, the name was changed, but it's not exactly clear why. Heis says the principal at the time, and a number of faculty members were graduates of Miami University, which at the time was also Redskins. The university changed its name to the Redhawks in 1997.
Bill Rinehart contributed to this report.