Poll: Approximately half of staff, students vote to keep Hart Indian mascot

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The results of two surveys regarding the controversy surrounding the Hart High School mascot were reported during the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board meeting on Wednesday.  

Both surveys, according to Hart Principal Jason d’Autremont, showed that a majority of both staff and students are in favor of keeping the mascot as the Indian.  

Of the surveys distributed online to the approximate 180 Hart staff, 61 voted to keep the mascot, 47 voted to change the mascot, 15 had no preference and a total of 123 staff members, or 68% responded to the prompt and shared their opinion of the mascot.  

Given paper slips on their first day back to campus, a total of 1,343 students, or 64% of the approximately 2,100 students, responded to the survey. Of those, 661 voted to keep the mascot, 342 voted to change and 340 had no preference.  

Both the juniors and seniors had a higher number of votes to change the mascot than did the sophomores and freshmen, but the two younger grades had larger numbers of “no preference” than they did “change” votes. All four grades had more “keep the mascot” votes than they did “change the mascot” votes.  

In explaining the apparent disparity between the grades, d’Autremont suggested the higher no preference selection by the younger grades could be due to the freshmen and sophomores having had less time on the campus and likely being unfamiliar with the issue. Student board member Kaitlyn Thanaet seemed to agree with that assessment and suggested the younger students may feel differently once they had become more educated on the subject.

The board emphasized during the meeting that, regardless of the findings, no further action or discussions would take place on Wednesday, with the board promising future opportunities for the families and community stakeholders to voice their input at future meetings.  

This is not the first exploratory or educational session the board has held on the mascot issue since the issues surrounding the mascot were rekindled last year.  

In one of their first study sessions on the subject this year on Feb. 9, multiple current students and alumni voiced either their support or opposition of the Indian mascot. During that meeting, school officials explained how the mascot has been in use since the 1940s and Laury Strauss, the former principal of Hart, explained how the school attempted to tackle the issue in the 1990s.  

At that time, Strauss said words to the Hart fight song and school chants were changed or retired, they banned the wearing of headdresses during rallies and required approval for any logos with the depiction of the Indian mascot. 

However, opponents during the Feb. 9 meeting and in a Feb. 17 meeting, which was attended by Rudy Ortega, the tribal president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, have said the mascot gives a misrepresentative and offensive representation of local Native American culture and tradition.  

Ortega, during the Feb. 17 study session, said things such as the mascot having inaccurate regalia and there being a lack of understanding regarding the painful history of local tribes and their endangered traditions, can lead to local Native American students and their classmates being given a false view of heritage surrounding the Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. 

After the survey results were presented, a handful of board members expressed their opinions on the subject, with board member Linda Storli saying the district should rid itself of race-based mascots, while board member Joe Messina once again asked for there to be further discussion on how to take the mascot from a negative to a positive representation of Native Americans and to allow the community to decide on the issue.  

Both Superintendent Mike Kuhlman and d’Autremont said there would be further discussion and engagement about the mascot made available for families and local stakeholders during an April 26 Zoom meeting. 

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