DRIGGS — After months of divisive debate, the Teton School District will drop its controversial and historic Redskins mascot.
Trustees voted 4-1 on Tuesday to retire Teton High School’s 90-year-old nickname, which has grown increasingly polarizing in recent years.
Over 100 patrons crowded Driggs Elementary School’s gymnasium bleachers to watch the meeting, which at times turned emotional as some patrons pleaded with trustees to prolong a decision.
“A vote tonight would be a disservice to the valley,” one patron told the board.
Others, including some of the nearly 200 people watching live on Facebook, argued that delaying a vote would further divide the local community.
Trustee Mary Mello, who pushed for a decision during a meeting last week, first motioned to retire the mascot on Tuesday. Trustee Ben Kearsley, who provided the only dissenting vote, called for more community input.
“Let’s make a plan for the plan,” Kearsley said.
Mello’s motion to retire the mascot passed at just after 10:30 p.m.
The board’s decision follows months of intense local debate, national media coverage and calls from state tribal members to change the mascot.
Concerns over costs tied to the change also surfaced Tuesday. Teton Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme put those costs at just under $30,000. Trustees said the district would be able to make the change without using any taxpayer dollars.
Trustees will later this month create a community committee to find a replacement mascot.
Tuesday’s decision caps off four hours of debate and discussion about the historic nickname, which some view as a racist reference to American Indians. Others argued the mascot is an important part of the community and that calls to change it stem from a broader overemphasis on political correctness.
The controversy has simmered for years but reached a boiling point in recent months. In May, students walked out of class in support of the nickname. Two weeks later, state Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, urged Teton trustees in a Facebook post not to bow to “political correctness and oversensitivity.”
The use of Native American mascots in schools has recently garnered national attention. In May, Maine’s governor signed a bill making the state the first to ban their use in public schools.