Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette determined Thursday that the State Superintendent doesn’t have the authority to fine or withhold funds from school districts that use potentially offensive sports mascots.
Midway through March of 2017, Michigan’s state superintendent, Brian Whiston, asked Schuette to investigate whether he’d be able to fine districts which use potentially offensive Native American mascots.
Whiston’s proposed fines would have totaled between 5 and 10% of districts’ state aid.
An MLive report from March showed how the use of Native American mascots – controversial at the national level – hurt the sentiments of local indigenous communities.
“It’s deeply hurtful,” said Julie Dye, a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.
Dye and her colleagues had tried to convince the Southeast Michigan town of Paw Paw to drop its use of the ‘Redskins’ name and mascot for athletics teams.
However, a 4-3 vote from the school board pulled in favor of continuing to use the ‘Redskins’ moniker, much to the chagrin of local Native Americans.
Other districts in the state, including Belding, abandoned their indigenous-inspired mascots, motifs, and titles after bouts of criticism and controversy flared.
The longstanding debate between advocates of teams like the Paw Paw Redskins and Native advocates and defenders culminated in Whiston’s decision to ask Schuette whether he had the authority to coerce districts by withholding educational aid.
Schuette’s opinion, addressed to Whiston as well as a state representative, said that, while the state superintendent has “broad authority” under Michigan’s Revised School Code and the State School Aid Act. However, neither provision would allow Whiston or any of his cohorts to “withhold funding or otherwise reduce state school aid provided to a school district based on its use of a particular mascot or logo.”
Michigan Department of Education spokesman Mark Ackley tried to put a positive spin on the decision, reminding districts that assistance was available for those willing to change.
“In accepting this Attorney General opinion, the State Superintendent still encourages school districts that have Native American mascots and logos to use the resources available in Michigan’s Native American Heritage Fund to defray the costs of changing their school mascot name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian tribe, individual, custom, or tradition,” he said in a statement.
Republican State Representative Tim Kelly, who’d also requested Schuette’s input, said he was pleased with the opinion.
“I think there’s very few people that are offended by this,” he said, having previously mentioned he took no offensive to names like the Paw Paw Redskins. “Many in these communities feel very strongly about these mascots, and in fact look at it as honorable use of these images rather than disparaging.”
One Paw Paw resident, Kim Jones, said she was happy that the issue may finally have been laid to rest.
“We use it with respect,” said Jones, referring to the Redskins logo and mascot.
“We have never disrespected or said anything derogatory towards the Redskins,” she said, although it was unclear whether she was referring to Paw Paw athletics or local tribes.