By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
The Rutland Raider mascot is still up for debate.
In the next several weeks, a new committee will decide whether the Rutland School Board adhered to its own rules when it voted last October to abandon the high school mascot and its arrowhead imagery. Committee members met for the first time on Tuesday, May 25.
If the committee decides the board violated processes while deciding on the change, it could propose reinstating the Raider mascot.
The board voted 6-4 to abandon the mascot after a group of residents advocated for the change, pointing to racist roots of the Raider name and symbol. Those in favor of keeping the name cite its legacy in the city.
After the October vote, a group of students spent months working on a new mascot. The board later voted to adopt their choice, the Rutland Ravens.
In March, Rutland elected a new slate of school board members, some of whom ran on platforms favoring a return of the Raider mascot.
Board members who support the Raider mascot, including board chair Hurley Cavacas, have questioned whether previous board members followed correct procedures, including Roberts Rules of Order, a guide for conducting public meetings.
The committee includes four board members. Two, Dena Goldberg and Ann Dages, voted to retire the mascot in October. Charlene Steward, also on the committee, voted against the change, and Stephanie Stoodley, a new board member, has advocated keeping the Raider name.
Cavacas assigned five tasks to the committee: determine what procedures the board used to change the mascot, consult with a parliamentarian about whether those processes were correct and what could happen if they weren’t, report the findings to the board, find out whether the mascot change could be “revisited or reconsidered,” and make a recommendation.
Alison Notte, who chaired the school board when it voted to abandon the mascot, attended Tuesday’s meeting along with several other board members and Rutland residents.
She suggested that the board begin with Cavacas’ second task, which questions what actions the board could take if a parliamentarian determined that procedure was not followed correctly.
“I don’t know that it’s worth wasting your time to go back through meeting minutes, videos and agendas if there’s no infraction or anything would be changed if Roberts Rules was not followed to the T,” she said.
Goldberg, the committee chair, questioned whether undoing a previous vote would set a bad precedent, even if the board made missteps within the process.
“Does this open up to going back five years and looking at something that the board may have decided that may not have followed to the T?” she said. “There have been situations, I can assure you that — not intentionally — things may not have been followed to the book.”
Steward pushed back, saying committee members were “already here” and should move through the tasks.
“I’m not saying this to barricade the process,” Goldberg said. “I’m saying it as a thought process of why I think there should be somebody doing it with us that understands the process and the procedures, and how to apply them in a correct way.”
The committee will sort through the details of past meetings, consult a parliamentarian and meet several times during the next several weeks. The School Board will discuss the mascot again on June 22.
Local leaders weigh in
In recent weeks, a number of groups have chimed in to express support or dissatisfaction with the Raven mascot and the school board’s recent discussions, which have become confrontational.
A letter signed by Rutland Area NAACP president Mia Schultz says the organization has been heartened while reading statements from schools that have pledged their commitment to champion diversity and equity in education.
“Now, we ask you to think deeply about what it means for us all to stand by those words,” it says.
Citing a Vermont Principals’ Association statement that calls on Vermont schools to abandon any mascot with “marginalizing, racist, or exclusionary elements,” the letter requests that other school districts “reconsider their contractual obligations” with Rutland City Public Schools.
“Should the leadership of one town or district persist in diving headlong into reverting to racism, what should our stance be in exerting influence to know that they do NOT have broader community support in this endeavor?” the letter says.
“While our goal is not to penalize students, who certainly deserve to play in their league’s games, we recognize that an essential component of education is taking an ethical stance in the face of insistent bigotry,” it later adds.
At the last Board of Aldermen meeting, alderman Tom DePoy, who has supported the Raider name, blasted the NAACP’s letter, and asked the NAACP to remove Schultz from her position, calling her request a “threat” to students.
“I cannot believe that someone in Mia Schultz’s position would directly threaten the children in our school system because it looks as though she might not get her way,” he said at the meeting.
Freshman board member Thomas Franco pushed back against DePoy.
“She is a private citizen and has every right to speak what she believes would be a necessary movement, certainly as the leader of NAACP that has worked historically for marginalized groups and, in particular, people of color,” he said.
“I’m open to the conversations,” he added. “I know that everyone else on this board has been committed to working together, so I hope that we can share that, and be a model for our school board.”
The Native American Guardian Association, a national group that advocates use of native imagery in mascots under the banner “educate not eradicate,” issued a statement in support of the Raider name and imagery. The group also expressed opposition to the NAACP’s letter.
Leaders of local Indigenous communities opposed that organization’s sentiments. Rich Holschuh, a representative of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, told the Rutland Herald that the organization’s arguments “do not hold water,” and Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation said the organization should have checked with local leaders before issuing its statement.
Designing the Raven
Meanwhile, a Rutland High School graduate, graphic designer Jon Marro, has created possible designs for the new Ravens mascot. Marro has also worked with musicians Jason Mraz and the Dave Matthews Band, and businesses such as TOMS Shoes, Whole Foods Market and others.
Giovanni Falco, senior class president and student representative of policy at Rutland High School, has petitioned the board to consider Marro’s designs.
June 7 event
Recently, Falco invited members of the school board and the Board of Aldermen to a June 7 event in downtown Rutland that will serve as “a celebration for the RHS Ravens of 2021.”
According to an email, several organizations — including Rutland Forward, Rights and Democracy, and the Rutland Area Chapter of the NAACP — support the event.
“It is time to embrace our new mascot and move forward as one Rutland community,” Falco wrote, “and we hope you will join us in doing so.”