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Houston School Board Tentatively Bans 'Culturally Insensitive' Mascots

Four Houston-area high schools could soon be forced to change their mascots under a policy tentatively approved by the Houston Independent School District board of education on Thursday evening.

The proposed policy, which the board unanimously approved, would prohibit the use of any race or ethnic group as a school's mascot or nickname. Mascots must "respect cultural differences, values, and attitudes," the policy states.

"HISD must retire, respectfully, school symbols that no longer reflect the values of who we are—inclusive, sensitive, forward-thinking and committed to instilling character and social awareness in our youngsters," said Houston Superintendent Terry Grier in a statement.

The board must formally approve the policy in January before it goes into effect. If the board does pass the policy, it will go into effect at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

Four schools in the district—Lamar High School (the Redskins), Westbury High School (the Rebels), Hamilton Middle School (the Indians), and the Welch Middle School (the Warriors)—would be forced to change their mascots if the policy receives final approval.

In early December, state Sen. Rodney Ellis sent a letter to Grier requesting that the district "put in place a process to change the name of the Lamar High School mascot and any other derogatory mascots at HISD schools." The "Redskins" nickname, Ellis wrote, "is a relic of a shameful, discriminatory past."

An online petition to keep the school's "Redskin" mascot had over 1,400 signatures as of Dec. 15. Barring a sudden change of heart from a majority of the school board, however, the movement appears as though it will be for naught.

As recently noted by my colleague Lesli Maxwell, Houston isn't the only district to be grappling with sensitive mascot issues as of late. The Banks school system, a rural district about 25 miles west of Portland, Oregon, is trying to preserve the use of a Native American mascot (the "Braves") by building an alliance with local tribal leaders. Meanwhile, in California, Coachella Valley High School was recently embroiled in a controversy over its mascot and nickname, the "Arabs." 

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