Dupuis: Indian not an issue, ‘fake news’

School Board Director Vic Dupuis Monday night tried to diffuse concern over the possibility of changing the high school mascot, but many residents remain concerned.

Dupuis opened the meeting saying there is no intention to remove the Indian as the Unionville High School mascot and that there has been a lot of false information being spread about the issue.

"A few vocal antagonists on this issue have flooded our community with false and derogatory statements…in misleading social media and news articles," he said. "There is no recommendation by the administration or faculty or staff that could potentially remove the Indian mascot."

Dupuis continued by saying there was no vote or debate on the board's agenda and no committee formation any time in the future that could remove the mascot.

"Anything to the contrary is fake news," he said.

The logo UHS is currently using.

Dupuis then said there has been a conversation among high school students "on a variety of topics around inclusion, acceptance and tolerance. In that student discussion, the topic of the Indian mascot was going to be a subject of their conversation. Instead, the fake news frenzy that was relatively poorly role-modeled, particularly by adults and others who want this to be an inflammatory debate have made it nearly impossible for these students to even engage in a conversation."

In response to the confusion and miscommunication, Dupuis said the administration has called in facilitators to "help them role-model" how conversations can be handled. He then reiterated a comment from an email sent by Superintendent John Sanville that the situation and discussions would be treated as a learning experience. (The Sanville email is at the end of this article.)

The student group could eventually request the board and administration remove the mascot but, Dupuis said, that likely wouldn't happen before the next school year which would then prompt a year-long administration study, followed by community conversations and then a board discussion and vote. He likened the process to that of the school start time situation, which started as a student discussion and led to the change three years later.

Not everyone was pleased with Dupuis' remarks. During the first public comment period of the March 19 board meeting, resident Tom Pancoast said the mascot issue should have been on the agenda because so many people wanted to discuss the issue. He also wanted the discussion to start early in the meeting, not the end, so people could leave before the Board discussed other matters.

"By sticking everybody at the end of the agenda that you don't want to listen to, is being unfair," Pancoast said.

Pancoast, of Pocopson Township, and others did speak during the second public comment period at the end of the meeting. That second session was preceded by Dupuis saying again that there was no agenda item planned regarding the mascot then or anytime in the future, and that no action was planned.

Scott Cousins, from Chadds Ford, said he sent an email asking that a citizens advisory committee be formed to investigate the mascot issue. He received a response from Dupuis, he said, in which Dupuis said that wasn't going to happen. He asked the board to reconsider that decision. He also said he objected to the fake news label.

Cousins wife handed out written comments to the board from which several other speakers read. The content dealt with free speech issues and "the hecklers' veto" where people on one side of an issue silence opposition either through government intervention or loud protests and demonstrations.

Another speaker, Ian Quinn, UHS student body president, wanted to address Cousins' request for a committee of adults.

"I would like to remind the board that the conversation started by the students in response to legitimate concerns of the students and, ultimately, belongs to the students. In the event you allow this adult committee to form, I fear that some of the students' voices will be silenced…I request that when the board is making a decision regarding the formation of this committee that you take into consideration the voices of the students and allow them to have a level playing field that the adults have in this conversation," he said.

Pancoast spoke again, saying the Indian logo has been disappearing from the school for years. It's no longer on the gymnasium floor and has been removed from team uniforms, replaced by the letter "U" and a feather.

Dupuis concluded the discussion with a few rhetorical questions and a statement:

"If the fellowship of Christian Athletes, a student organization, wants to talk about specifics related to their faith in a student-led group, do we form a citizens advisory committee to discuss whether they should discuss that? No, we don't. If the math club wants to talk about fuzzy math, do we form a citizens advisory committee to talk about that? No, we don't. The Identity Council is simply a student group. It's not a legislative body; it's not a decision-making body, it's not an authoritarian body that's going to have any say about anything related to our school. They can certainly make recommendations, but that responsibility lies with the school board based on the recommendations made by the administration. We don't have any actions intended with regards to this issue," he said.

Dupuis then reiterated that the board has no plans to do anything with the issue.

 

The Sanville email:

The ability of our students to engage in conversations, evaluate perspectives and consider alternatives is critical to their success here and beyond. It is also integral to our mission to "empower students to succeed in life and contribute to society." Keeping this in mind, we have supported the groundwork done by the students interested in the mascot issue. Student leadership has plans to further the conversation by gathering feedback and conducting research – ultimately their work will result in a report and presentation that outlines their findings. This will be a real-life accomplishment on a sensitive topic.  All of UCFSD will be the better for having the mascot and its viability brought to the forefront by students who used the skills and knowledge gained in your homes and our schools.

We also want to hear the questions and concerns from community members. It is clear that there is a lot of interest in the mascot issue and that it means different things to different people for different reasons.  We also understand there are many who are not invested in this particular topic and we respect that as well.  In UCF, there is room for varying viewpoints and responses.  Diversity in action is the best antidote to single-track thinking.

In UCF, we pride ourselves on understanding the value of expertise, so we have reached out for some third-party help.  The Chester County Intermediate Unit, the University of Pennsylvania, and a UHS alumnus who is a current Stanford University graduate student (whose work focuses on "creating connections through respectful conversation about issues that matter") have all agreed to assist.  These individuals will be working with student leaders to facilitate discussions among students.  Twenty-first-century students must be able to participate in difficult conversations – in person and online.  The mentors will help the students develop the skills needed – for this conversation and for future difficult discussions.

Real-life situations like this, borne of questions, concern, and curiosity, that happen within a community where there are opposing responses, and have the potential to teach all involved are worth their weight in gold.  No matter where you stand on the UHS mascot - you should be able to express your views without being insulted or bullied - in person or online.  If we all hold ourselves to the standard that the borrowed experts from University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University are going to work with the kids on - we might just be able to weather difficult conversations of our own a little better.

My promise to you is that the discussions about the mascot will be part of the ongoing UCFSD tradition to be inclusive and transparent.  We have many reasons to be open and share what is going on – they attend our schools, play on our fields, perform on our stages, and are the very reason we are all here - our students!  Our duty to them is the driving force behind all that we do.  These teachable moments, and how we handle them, speak to the commitment we share to making UCFSD the best possible place to learn.

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