On Feb. 27, the Scarborough School Board discussed what to do about the a painting of the district’s former mascot. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer 

SCARBOROUGH — No decision was made last week on whether or not to remove a painting of a Native American individual in the Scarborough High School’s Plummer Gym.

Superintendent of Schools Sanford Prince brought the issue before the School Board on Thursday, Feb. 27.

Some School Board members said they wanted more public discussion before determining what to do. And there was no conclusion on whether it was a matter for the School Board, the superintendent or some other entity to decide.

The painting was created by former art teacher Robert Scammon when SHS’s teams and mascot were known by a name some view as offensive to Native Americans, Prince said.

In 2001, the name and mascot was changed to Red Storm.

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

Prince said he was bringing the issue before the board because “I had a person in town who  just raised the question that we had (in) … the gym at the high school (a painting) that may represent an Indian image,” Prince said. “I felt that given the new law signed by the governor last spring that I want to make sure if that symbol should be there.”

Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 944, “An Act To Ban Native American Mascots in All Public Schools” in May. It became law 90 days later.

Prince said he wanted to “educate the board” about the matter and had attorney Melissa Hewey, with the law firm Drummond Woodsum, speak to the board.

“The law says a public school/University of Maine system and others may not have or adopt a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual, custom or tradition and I think we can all agree that this image depicts a Native American individual,” Hewey said.

But, she said, the law talks about not using anything referring to a Native American if “it’s used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead, or team name of the school. … since the Red Storm is the Red Storm and has its own mascot — a logo would be something that’s used all over the district — this picture, this image probably doesn’t violate the letter of the law.”

“I do think on the other hand that it violates the spirit of the law because it harkens back to a time when that in fact (it) was a mascot or logo of the district,” Hewey said. “So really I think whether you remove it or not it’s probably more of a policy decision than a legal decision.”

In addition, she said someone could take the district to court “alleging that because it does violate the spirit of the law that it violates the law. I think ultimately if the district were to get into that litigation and fight it you would probably prevail but that would be an expensive distraction.”

Board members had a variety of opinions on what should be done about the painting and some said it wasn’t their decision to make.

Some, like board member Nicholas Gill, a Scarborough High School graduate, class of 1998, felt students should be involved in the decision. He noted that his yearbook “will always say that I graduated with that particular mascot.” But, he said, “today Scarborough High School isn’t about me it’s about the students that are in there and the community that we currently serve.”

“But what I’d love to see is for our high school students that are there now and our professional staff to get involved in,” he said, “and explore that discourse and coming and telling us what they find out so we can make a decision about it because I don’t think it’s about the people that graduated … it’s been almost 20 years since someone graduated with that mascot … and I guess I just wonder how the students feel today about it because it’s their school not ours.”

Student Representative Maxwell Bennett agreed students should have a say.

“I personally think it’s pretty culturally appropriated and kind of inappropriate but,” Bennett said, “… I think it’s something that definitely the students should explore.”

“I think it would be a really cool challenge for… art students today to think of a new image that represents Scarborough students now whether that’s our current mascot or something else,” said Student Representative Kristen Caldwell.

While having students discuss the issue could be a good lesson for them, board member Alicia Giftos said, she didn’t think they should be the decision makers.

“I wouldn’t want to leave the decision in the hands of the students that would concern me,” Giftos said. “But I think it’s a great educational topic and I think it would be great for them to use their artistic talents.”

She said she felt the painting should be replaced to represent the school’s current mascot.

“I think the easy way to respond to this dilemma,” Giftos said, “… is that the mascot is the Red Storm and so to me the logical response should be that drawing should depict our current mascot. And I think that we don’t even have to get into the philosophical debate.”

Not all on the board thought the answer was so easy.

“I guess I have really mixed feelings about this because it is cultural appropriation and … I can see how it would be offensive or uncomfortable for people,” board member Hillory Durgin said. “But I don’t like whitewashing history. That was a decision that was made and that was what was in Scarborough at the time and to pretend it didn’t happen is just as insulting . I guess you don’t need a picture of it on the gym wall to remind us of that, but at the same time I have mixed feelings of it.”

Durgin and others also said they weren’t sure whether the School Board was the right body to decide what to do about the painting.

Board member April Sither said she would like to see more public engagement on the issue before a final decision was made.

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