School Must Drop Nickname Under New Wisconsin Law

A school district in western Wisconsin was ordered Tuesday to drop its "Chieftains" team nickname and logo. The first-of-its-kind order from the state Department of Public Instruction falls under a new Wisconsin law that took effect in May, which allows a district resident who objects to the use of a race-based nickname, logo or mascot to file a complaint with the state superintendent. The legislation requires immediate review of the complaint to determine whether the use of the nickname (alone or in connection with a logo or mascot) is race-based. In the case of the Osseo-Fairchild School District, DPI officials deemed the use of Chieftains and a logo depicting an American Indian in a feather headdress as promoting discrimination and harassment.

Wisconsin's DPI has a public hearing scheduled on Thursday to take public testimony on emergency and proposed permanent rules related to the new legislation. Those rules specify that "the use of certain nicknames or team names are unambiguously race-based and presumed to promote discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping unless the school district produces clear and convincing evidence refuting this presumption."

The day the new state law took effect, 15 residents of the Osseo-Fairchild district - where the use of Chieftains has been a bone of contention for years - filed a complaint. The district now has one year to eliminate the nickname and logo; so far there's been no word on whether the school board will appeal the DPI's ruling.

The Associated Press reports that 34 other Wisconsin school districts use similar American Indian-based names and may be forced to drop them - or face fines of up to $1,000 a day.

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