The New York State Department of Education (NYSDE) Thursday ordered all public schools in the state to stop using Native American references in team names, logos and mascots by the end of the 2022-23 school year, or face penalties. 

The order, which was announced in a memo to districts statewide, characterized the use of Native American-themed imagery in schools as discriminatory.

“School districts that continue to utilize Native American team names, logos, and/or imagery without current approval from a recognized tribe must immediately come into compliance,” NYSDE Senior Deputy Commissioner James Baldwin wrote in the memo. 

Schools which fail to comply will be considered in willful violation of New York’s Dignity for all Students Act, Baldwin wrote. Consequences for violating the Dignity Act include “the removal of school officers and the withholding of state aid,” the memo read. 

The Dignity Act, signed into law in 2010, was established to provide students with a supportive school environment, free of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, taunting and bullying.  

The concept of prohibiting Native American mascots is not new in New York. In 2001, the former commissioner of education issued a statement that such mascots could become “a barrier to building a safe and nurturing” learning environment. At the time, many school districts complied with the commissioner’s memorandum, but several others did not.

Thursday’s order referenced a decision in a 2021 case which established that “public school districts are prohibited from utilizing Native American mascots.” In that case, the commissioner of education brought up several studies that supported the ban of Native American mascots and team names.

A 2020 literature review cited by Baldwin’s memo found that the use of these names negatively impacted Native communities by reinforcing stereotypes. Similarly, the New York Association of School Psychologists determined that the use of Indigenous imagery caused harm to both Native and non-Native students.

Currently, the only case in which schools can use Native imagery is if they get permission from the tribe they took the name from, the memo outlined.