In wake of mascot vote, Mohawk parent files open meeting complaint

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School parent Jessica Bower filed an Open Meeting complaint about the School Committee last week, saying the body expanded the scope of proposed changes to the Native American mascot in private, between its April and May public meetings. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2019 10:40:23 PM

BUCKLAND — Mohawk Trail Regional School parent Jessica Bower hasfiled an open meeting complaint about the district’s School Committee, accusing members of expanding the scope of proposed changes to the Native American mascot vote in private, between their April and May public meetings.

Bower, a Charlemont resident, filed the complaint with the state Attorney General’s office May 8, the day before the School Committee voted at a public meeting to remove a mural of Native American man in a feathered headdress portrayed on the school gymnasium wall, plus all other vestiges of this image, which was formerly its mascot. Also on the agenda was a vote to change the Warriors team name, which didn’t pass, and to affirm the school’s name.

The School Committee will review the complaint in an executive session tonight, which is legally closed to the public. The committee is required to respond to the complaint in writing within 14 business days, according to the state’s Open Meeting Law.

In Bower’s complaint, she said members had expanded the scope of the proposed changes between their April and May meetings. According to Bower, the School Committee had only proposed to change the school’s Native American mascot at its public meetings in March and April. But the agenda for its May meeting included votes to change the “Warriors” team name and to reaffirm the school name.

Bower cites an email School Committee members sent to each other in April that discusses these votes.

Bower said she also plans to formally request the resignations of several School Committee members who voted to remove the mascot, including Thurber and Charlemont representative Evelyn Locke.

Bower is a longtime Charlemont resident, saying her family has lived in the town for 11 generations. She said she wanted the school to keep the Native American mural and felt that the School Committee did not listen to the opinions of those who felt similarly.

“I feel our community wasn’t represented fairly,” Bower said.

In response, School Committee Chair Martha Thurber said in a written statement she does not believe she or any other School Committee member should resign if parts of their constituency disagree with a particular decision they have made.

“As School Committee members, we constantly deal with a large number of diverse issues,” Thurber wrote. “We work hard to educate ourselves about all of the things that come before us, to listen thoughtfully to all sides, and then vote in what we believe to be the best interests of our students and our towns. That’s what we did in this case. Not everyone is going to be happy with every position or vote we take.”

The complaint coincides with annual town election season, and Mohawk’s School Committee is rife with vacancies — as is a persistent problem for municipal bodies in the area. Of the district’s nine member towns, Heath, Ashfield, Hawley, Colrain and Charlemont had no candidates running for a School Committee seat at their elections this month. Hawley and Colrain have since secured representatives after townspeople accepted write-in nominations for respective positions.

Bower said she has no interest in running for Charlemont’s seat.

Hussain Hamdan accepted a write-in nomination in Hawley, albeit “grudgingly,” he said this week.

“It is extremely difficult to recruit people,” Hamdan said. “We have repeatedly had situations where no one ran, the people who were written in turned it down, and then the people the Selectboard tried to appoint (last resort) either turned it down or resigned.”

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.




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