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Bills Would Force Mich. Dept. to Foot Bill for School Mascot Changes

If two Republican lawmakers in Michigan get their way, the Michigan civil rights department could soon be out $3 million for raising concerns about the use of Native American mascots and imagery in K-12 schools.

Two bills introduced today in the Michigan House would require the state's department of civil rights to cover any expenses for schools forced to change their American Indian mascots.

The department initially filed a complaint in February with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights (OCR) asking for a ban on the use of American Indian mascots and imagery in K-12 schools that receive federal funds. The department charges that the use of such imagery denies equal rights to American Indian students.

The legislation introduced Wednesday by Reps. Bob Genetski and Dan Lauwers would create a $3 million "school mascot reimbursement fund" that would cover the cost of changes to mascots, uniforms, billboards, gym resurfacing, and other expenses generated if the OCR approves the Michigan civil rights department's complaint. The money would be earmarked from the Michigan civil rights department's budget.

"The civil rights department filed its complaint independently, without input from local citizens, so it can pay for any necessary changes it may have caused," said Genetski in a statement.

Lauwers echoed Genetski's comments in a statement of his own, in which he called the complaint from the Michigan civil rights department "misguided."

"If a state-funded department is going to arbitrarily issue a complaint that could hurt our public schools, then it's only fair they pick up the tab for any potential costs," said Lauwers. "Every school dollar possible should be going into the classroom to teach our children, not be spent on the new paint and letterhead needed to change mascots."

Vicki Levengood, a spokeswoman for the state civil rights department, told the Detroit Free-Press that it would model its policy after Oregon, whose state board of education voted in 2012 to ban K-12 public schools from using Native American mascots. Any school affected by the new policy has five years to make the change.

The legislation from Genetski and Lauwers was referred to the House committee on appropriations.

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