School officials are debating whether to keep a Native American painting on the back wall of the high school’s Plummer Gymnasium. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

SCARBOROUGH — Two decades after retiring the Redskins as its mascot and adopting the Red Storm name, school officials are asking the high school’s student body if a hand-painted image of Native American in headdress still belongs on the wall in Plummer Gymnasium.

The Scarborough Board of Education began a conversation last week regarding whether the painting should still be featured, given a recent law passed by the State Legislature. The painting, created by former art teacher Robert Scamman in the early 1990s, is the last reference to the high school’s Redskin mascot, which the school had from the 1930s to 2000.

In 2002, shortly after the school adopted the Red Storm mascot, a plaque was added the mural that stated: “This mural will remain as a testimony to Mr. Scamman’s talents and the commitments to the students of Scarborough High School.”

Before a decision is made if the mural should stay, however, the board would like to get more feedback from the community, especially the student body.

“It’s been 20 years since someone graduated from the school with that mascot, so I wonder how the students feel about it because it is their school, not ours,” said board member Nick Gill, who graduated from the school in 1998 prior to the mascot change.

Board Vice Chairwoman April Sither said she would be uncomfortable with the board making a decision without student input.

In May 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill passed unanimously by legislators that prohibits Native American mascots at Maine schools.

“While Indian mascots were often originally chosen to recognize and honor a school’s unique connection to Native American communities in Maine, we have heard clearly and unequivocally from Maine tribes that they are a source of pain and anguish,” Mills said at the time.

The bill prohibits public schools from “adopting a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual, custom or tradition and that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name of the school.”

Superintendent Sandy Prince told The Forecaster, “given the interpretation of the Maine law, the feeling is perhaps we should remove it.”

Maxwell Bennett, who represents the student body on the school board, said he feels the image should go.

“I believe it is culturally inappropriate,” he said.

Fellow student representative Kristen Caldwell said if the painting is removed, there may be an opportunity “for art students to think of an image that represents Scarborough today, whether it is the mascot or not.”

Melissa Hewey, a lawyer with Drummond Woodsum who serves as the district’s legal counsel, said removing the painting would be a policy decision, not a legal decision.

“This picture, this image probably doesn’t violate the letter of the law,” she said. “I do think on the other hand there is a pretty good argument that it violates the spirit of the law because it harkens back to a time when (that) was in fact the mascot and a logo of the district.”

School board member Alicia Giftos said because the image is no longer associated with the mascot, it should be removed.

Board member Hillory Durgin said she has mixed feelings about the topic.

“I can see how it could be offensive or uncomfortable for people, but I also don’t like whitewashing history,” Durgin said.

 

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