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July 2014

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Mukwonago schools:

Complaint filed over Indian mascot

Formal complaint filed against district

A complaint has been filed with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction alleging the Mukwonago School District uses a race-based logo and mascot that promotes discrimination, pupil harassment and stereotyping in violation of state law.

According to a July 23 letter to Paul Strobel, Superintendent of the Mukwonago School District, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) received the complaint on July 21. The letter states that "within ten business days of receipt of the notice, the district needs to submit to the department a list of all nicknames or team names in use in the school district and a photograph, copy, or other accurate depiction of any logo or mascot in use within the school district."

The DPI will then notify the parties whether the use of the nickname or team name alone, or in connection with the logo and mascot, is unambiguously race-based.

The DPI will then use the information submitted by the district to decide whether a hearing is required.

The complaint, filed by a Mukwonago resident and former Mukwonago High School student, alleges the complainant was subjected to racial harassment and discrimination reinforced and created by the school mascot.

"I have been subjected to taunts of 'Injin Boy,' 'Redskin,' 'Tonto,' and 'Savage,' at school, along with kids shouting war cries," the complaint states. "Kids would also throw stuff from their cars like soda bottles and juice boxes, and I would have pencils and paper stuff thrown at me in the hallways, at lunch, and in class … sometimes they would do it when teachers were around, but the teachers did nothing."

The complainant also states that during his high school years, he complained at least a dozen times to teachers, the associate principal, his guidance counselor and the social worker. However, when he asked for a copy of his student records, the school "either purged or withheld any of my records related to the harassment I faced related to the school mascot and being Indian."

The complainant says he filed a complaint with the Federal Government on June 25 regarding the withholding of his records.

Strobel said that it is his understanding that the student was given his cumulative record, which is a school academic record and doesn't contain records of behavioral complaints, etc.

"So either we weren't clear on what he was requesting or he didn't specify what he was asking," Strobel said.

The complaint sites very specific incidents of discrimination and harassment claims and alleges that Superintendent Strobel "told me to remember that Mukwonago is a white community that resented the Democrat outsiders imposing this mascot law on them."

In response, Strobel said that he did not believe those were his words.

"I did indicate that we believe the decision relating to the use of the logo is a local decision," he said. "We don't necessarily appreciate politicians in Madison who are not connected to the district making decisions for the district … I was trying to say this is not a personal issue ... and I even complimented him on how he was handling the situation. I told him that if there was backlash, it's not personal, it's not directed at (him), it's directed at people outside of Mukwonago telling us what to do."

The complainant goes on to say that he understands that his life might have been much easier while at school if he had just kept his opinions about the mascot to himself.

"But if I stay silent because of … attempts by students or administrators at my school to intimidate me, Mukwonago and other schools will never abandon their race-based Indian mascots."

Should the DPI find the use promotes discrimination or stereotyping, the school board would be ordered to drop its use within a year. Districts could get extensions up to another year if they can show compliance would create a financial burden.

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