Even when the Sanford School Committee gets it right, its members manage to be wrong.
My alma mater, Sanford High, recently got rid of its long-time racist mascot, the redskin. Anybody who has read the feature articles or columns that I wrote advocating for that change (starting with "Last of the Redskins," November 28, 2008) will not be surprised that I am elated by the decision. It's long overdue, but at least it finally happened. Now the community can have a mascot that doesn't divide them or disparage others.
But the Sanford School Committee still dropped the ball. How? By pretending that they were willing to hear from the public on this issue. Word had been spread that the votes for change were in the bag, so hearing from the public was just a bit of flummery. Everyone was invited to comment, according to the committee. Except that, in reality, that wasn't true.
Michelle Lavallee-Bernard was a year ahead of me in school. As an SHS graduate who is also Native American, Michelle's perspective should have been welcome. A philosophy professor at the New England School of Communication, in Bangor, she is a thoughtful woman; but on top of all that, when Michelle was a SHS student, she would dress in Native American garb and perform at games as the mascot personified. Obviously, Michelle feels very differently about the redskin now, and she has been a leader of the effort to bring about change. She planned to attend the meeting to again lend her voice to the just cause. Except that the Sanford school board, via an unsigned email, expressly asked her not to attend, citing the desire to avoid a "circus atmosphere."
Michelle is zero part circus. She just speaks her mind, and she has a unique perspective — one that, apparently, the committee wanted to avoid. My guess is that they hoped the issue would go away without them looking any more ignorant than they already did, since this change should have happened decades ago. I can understand that, but their email to her was still a chicken-shit, bush-league move. Every member of the School Committee should be ashamed of both the email and the attempt to stage-manage the meeting while dishonestly claiming to welcome all input. They only wanted to hear from people who wouldn't cast their johnny-come-lately vote in the harsh white light of reality that it deserves. (Michelle sure heard from the public. Here's just one of the bons mots posted on her Facebook page: I feel Native Americans should be happy. It's better than calling them greedy casino makers and drunks.)
That's not all. The revision of how this process evolved was also in evidence. Don Jamison, chairman of the School Committee, described the process that led to the change as something the school board had initiated all on its own two years earlier. That statement is pure bovine fecal matter. The controversy had raged for quite awhile by then; very few (if any) believe that the committee would have taken this change without the pressure brought by individuals in the community, the school, and the media.
But, anyway, it happened. That's what's important. It happened because people like Alan Helmreich and Paul Auger (both SHS teachers), Ted Cassely, Sue Gabrielson, Joyce Crosby Dales, and many, many others agitated for positive change. And let's not forget Michelle Lavallee-Bernard. She (literally) personified this issue better than anyone else, and in avoiding her, the Sanford School Committee revealed themselves as cowards, even in the midst of their "come to Jesus" moment. Shame on them.