Franklin High’s mascot, The Quaker, is an offensive appropriation of a religious faith and must be changed, the Portland school board determined Tuesday.
That conclusion comes after a battle nearly as long as it takes a student to complete high school. And it marks the first change in mascot for a Portland high school in thirty years.
Lisa Zuniga told the board that in 2014 she met Mia Pisano, a fellow Franklin High parent who is a member of the Quaker faith, and the pair started an effort to change the name. The name, they argued, violated the separation of church and state. The district, they said, should never commandeer a religious symbol or connotation for a mascot.
Despite interest in the name change, Zuniga said, parents met stiff resistance from the district. It was hard to even get anyone to explain what the process would be to bring about a name change, she said.
So, in 2015 she and other parents filed the complaint that was finally resolved at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards thanked the parents for not letting the “grind of the system” wear them down.
“This is really a tribute to citizen activism,” Brim-Edwards said. “Tradition doesn’t trump doing the right thing, and it’s time for a new chapter in Southeast Portland.”
The issue wasn’t clear-cut for the Franklin community, which struggled with the school pride and traditions associated with the name.
Brim-Edwards noted such a switch is rare, considering the last time a nickname was changed was 1988 when Cleveland High did away with the Indians as a mascot.
The parents’ efforts have ramifications beyond Franklin High. In April, the board approved a new naming policy in response to Franklin’s complaint. The new policy allows school names and mascots to be changed if deemed discriminatory and explicitly prevents names that have religious affiliations.
The new policy has some wondering if Jefferson High should no longer be named after a slave owner.
Pisano thanked the board and told them the complaint has never been about any individual’s offense to the name, but rather the principle that no faith should be treated in this manner. As an example, Pisano noted that the cafeteria floor of the school currently says “The Quakers,” meaning people thoughtlessly walk on the name of a religion daily.
“No religion belongs on a cafeteria floor,” she said.
The board directed staff to bring back a proposed process for the name by May 22. The deadline for the name change is June 2019.
Franklin students have already expressed a desire to have a say.
“We do not all agree whether Quakers should remain as our mascot name: Many see the apparent religious affiliation as an entanglement of church and state, while many others see the mascot as too much a part of the school’s identity to just erase,” Franklin student leader Cliff Carlson, Zuniga’s son, said at a March board meeting. “There is a consensus, however, in saying if you decide the mascot should change, our new name should be picked by student vote.”
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