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Education Reporter

Floats, Mascots, Flags Stir Passions at Schools 
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Symbols of Jesus, the Iraq invasion, the devil, Indians and Confederates all caused controversy at public schools around the country in November, demonstrating the challenges principals face in satisfying a diverse constituency.

Homecoming parade floats depicting Jesus and the toppling of Saddam Hussein were allowed at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, FL despite school officials' concerns that the floats were inappropriate. The principal was worried about offending the school's Muslim population. The Young Republicans Club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes prevailed after contacting Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based conservative civil liberties legal group, which threatened a federal lawsuit to assert the students' free speech rights. (orlandosentinel.com, 11-5-03)

A Christian parent has objected to a public high school's use of devil as its mascot. Kenneth Locklear has offered to pay to rid Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach, FL of representations of the mascot. The school district has not budged, citing the long history of the team name and the absence of other complaints. Three other schools in the same district also use a devil mascot.

"What if this was a cross?" asked Locklear. "Because it is the devil, it doesn't seem to be recognized as a religious symbol." (sun-sentinel.com, 11-7-03)

Legal challenges to devil mascots around the country have failed so far, but some high schools have voluntarily changed team names because of concerns of inappropriateness.

In another mascot controversy, Strom Thurmond High School in Johnston, SC changed its old Southern aristocrat mascot to a blue tick hound patterned after the University of Tennessee's mascot named Smokey, but the school will keep its "Rebels" nickname. The hound will wear a blanket with the initials of the late Senator after whom the school is named, "ST." Associated Press, 12-10-03

A Redskins mascot was retained by a unanimous vote of the Union Public School Board of Education in the Tulsa, OK area despite protests from civil rights groups and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission's recommendation that all non-Indian schools change mascots using Indian team names. Some 59 other Oklahoma schools use Native American terms for teams, including Warriors, Indians, Chieftains, Redskins, Savages, Chiefs and Braves. (ktul.com, 11-10-03)

On the other hand, a principal in Skokie, IL forbade first-graders from dressing as American Indians for their annual Thanksgiving celebration after a parent complained the construction-paper headdresses might be offensive. Pilgrim black hats and bonnets were also banned. American Indian groups in Chicago applauded the Madison School principal's decision, but parents who had worked on costumes for a month didn't appreciate it. (chicagotribune.com, 11-22-03)

Parents have collected more than 100 signatures to protest the raising of the flag of the Iroquois Confederacy at a high school in Lafayette, NY, saying it promotes "segregation." The superintendent defended the plan as a way of respecting differences with the Onandaga Indian Nation, which borders the town. Native Americans make up 23% of the high school enrollment. The school does not fly the American flag. (AP story reprinted at statesman.com, 10-30-03)

A teacher in Hampton, VA has started a petition to change the names of Robert E. Lee Elementary and Jefferson Davis Middle Schools, saying it is inappropriate to send a predominantly black student population into buildings named after Confederate leaders. (AP story reprinted at wavy.com, 11-11-03)

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