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New York tells schools to drop Native American mascots

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 1: Powwow attendee Sonny Hensley holds an anti-mascot button to protest using Indians as mascots for sports teams at the 10th Annual New Years Eve Sobriety Powwow January 1, 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio Center for Native American Affairs sponsored the event, attracting people from several U.S. states as well as Canada. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 1: Powwow attendee Sonny Hensley holds an anti-mascot button to protest using Indians as mascots for sports teams at the 10th Annual New Years Eve Sobriety Powwow January 1, 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio Center for Native American Affairs sponsored the event, attracting people from several U.S. states as well as Canada. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)

School districts across the state of New York are prohibited from using any Native American mascots, team names or logos. And the state's education department is now urging its school comply by the end of the school year — or risk losing state aid.

The prohibition isn't new: The state's former commissioner of education issued a memorandum ending the practice more than two decades ago. And while some school districts retired their mascots almost immediately, others still aren't in compliance today. On Thursday, the education department's senior deputy commissioner sent out a memo to all school districts in the state demanding all school districts take action before the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

"Schools are learning environments; students learn as much through observation of their surroundings as they do from direct instruction," senior deputy commissioner James N. Baldwin wrote in the memo.

Penalties for violating the act, Baldwin warned in the memo, could lead to losing state aid and removing school officials from their positions.

If a school district fails to remove its Native American mascot, then the education department would find it in violation of The Dignity For All Students Act. State legislators passed the measure more than a decade ago to provide "all students in New York public schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment."

An estimated 60 school districts in the state still use a Native American mascot or logo, according to the Times Union. And across the U.S., nearly 2,000 school districts also still feature a Native mascot, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.