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Houston school board votes to ban 'offensive' mascots

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FILE: May 16, 2012: The Banks High School score board is shown on the wall of their gym in Banks, Oregon.AP

The Houston school district board has given preliminary approval to a new policy that would prohibit offensive or culturally insensitive mascots.

The new policy calls on schools to show respect and cultural sensitivity in nicknames and mascots. The use of any race or ethnic group will be prohibited, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Preliminary approval was given during the policy's initial reading at a board meeting Thursday. It has to get a second reading and again receive a majority vote for it to be implemented. But final approval was expected.

While the new policy does not refer to specific nicknames or types of mascot, the school district has said that three campuses — the Lamar High School Redskins, Hamilton Middle School Indians and Welch Middle School Warriors — would be affected.

A fourth school, Westbury High, might have to drop the use of Rebel, even though connections to the Confederacy were eliminated more than two decades ago.

The new policy comes as the National Football League's Washington Redskins are in the middle of a debate about whether the team should alter its name.

At Thursday's meeting, about 20 people spoke for and against the proposal.

"You should be spending your money, time and attention not on changing mascots but on educational matters," said Joe Koch, a 1968 Lamar graduate. "These names were not meant to be offensive. They were meant as a rallying cry to bring students together."

Current Lamar student Juan Vides said those who attend the school come from many backgrounds and would never regard the nickname as demeaning.

"We see it as a sign of respect, not a sign of mockery," Vides said.

Several Native American speakers said the use of names and symbols associated with their people can have a hurtful impact regardless of the intent.

"I am a human being — I am not a mascot," said Steve Melendez, a Native American activist.

Mayra Fontenot, a student at Carnegie Vanguard High School with Native American ancestry, said the use of terms such as Redskin, along with icons and logos depicting Indian figures in traditional dress, strips her people of their basic humanity.

"You are turning us into a brand," Fontenot said. "It is an insult to our people and reducing us to a caricature."

Board member Rhonda Skillern-Jones said the district should not "continue to celebrate a name that people find offensive."

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