A Long Island school district has filed a lawsuit against the New York State Board of Regents, accusing the board of violating its constitutional rights by banning the use of its Native American mascot.
The Massapequa School District is suing the board that oversees the New York City Department of Education over its statewide ban on schools’ use of Indigenous mascots and images, issued earlier this year. Newsday reported Friday.
The district’s “Chief” logo features a Native American wearing a feather headdress.
The ban, passed in April, requires Massapequa — and nearly 60 other public school districts, including 13 on Long Island — to eliminate their controversial mascots by the 2024-2025 school year or risk losing state aid.
“The Chief is more than a logo for our schools and our community,” the school board wrote in a letter on its website.
“It is our history and our heritage. When we speak of the “Chief” of Massapequa, we do so with pride and respect. As a board, we are united in our efforts to advocate for our community and our long-standing tradition,” the board said.
The phrase “Once a chief, always a chief” is often heard in the schools and community of Massapequa. according to the Massapequa Post.
A copy of the federal complaint obtained by Newsday alleges that the Board of Regents violated its First Amendment rights by prohibiting school officers and officials from wearing “Chiefs'” attire on school grounds and at other events.
The Massapequa district also accused the board of violating standard operating procedure by rushing the ban and overstepping its authority by implementing a “blanket ban” that did not specify which schools would make changes to their mascots must.
As an administrative body operating within the executive branch, it violates the state separation of powers.
The lawsuit also alleges that while the ban is called a “law,” it functions as a law, meaning the board, in collaboration with the executive branch, violated the state government’s separation of powers.
The ban on tribal mascots was supported by the Shinnecock Indian Nation and the Oneida Indian Nation and does not apply to tribal schools.
Tribes, the Massapequa school district argued, “cannot be the sole arbiters of whether a school district’s use of a Native name, logo or mascot is legal,” the lawsuit said. “They are not elected officials accountable to their constituents…”
The Education Department told Newsday it does not comment on pending litigation.
There are 13 schools on Long Island that have been forced to change their school mascots, and many of them have also signaled their intention to challenge the Board of Regents as well.
Amityville, Comsewogue, Wyandanch, Wantagh, who call themselves the Warriors, and Sachem, the Flaming Arrows, all voted to change their names, according to Newsday.
However, they each said they had the right to resist government regulation.