Mascot public meeting delayed due to Covid concerns

Jul 26, 2021

An open public forum for community members to discuss whether to retain or replace the Dartmouth High School Indian mascot will likely be postponed because of concerns about large gatherings as Covid cases increase, School Committee Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins said at a July 26 meeting.

The Equality and Diversity Subcommittee, which was formed to look at the mascot issue, among other topics, had decided to host a meeting Aug. 18 where the public could offer input on the topic.

That meeting date, though, had hinged on whether School Committee members agreed to open their meetings to the public by the Aug. 18 date. Since the Covid shutdown in March 2020, the public has not been allowed to attend School Committee meetings in person.

The School Committee vote July 26 to keep meetings closed prompted Jenkins, who also chairs the subcommittee, to suggest postponing the public meeting on the mascot.

Committee member Kathleen Amaral said she has “hesitancy’’ to open the meetings “based on what I’m hearing from medical professionals.’’

Committee member Chris Oliver suggested that attendees be required to wear masks. Jenkins questioned how that would be enforced. “I’m not sure we want to get into that business,’’ she said. 

Oliver said that the committee should look at “better remote options for public comment’’ if in-person attendance is delayed much longer.

Public comment is vital to deciding the mascot issue, Jenkins said, but she raised questions about the substantial crowd a meeting would draw in the wake of growing Covid cases.

“We have to have public comment for the committee to move forward on this decision, but I don’t think Aug. 18 is the right time for us to do that right now,’’ she said.

“I don’t think it’s right to have a public meeting two weeks before school opens when we don’t know everyone’s vaccination status,’’ Jenkins said. “I don’t want to have a superspreader event two weeks before school opens.’’ 

A meeting will still likely take place Aug. 18, but it will be held remotely, Jenkins said.

The subcommittee had previously suggested inviting the authors of a letter seeking to keep the mascot — Clyde Andrews, Christopher Pereira and Jacob Ventura — to make a presentation prior to the public hearing.

She said the letter writers will be asked to present at the newly remote Aug. 18 meeting. 

In a related discussion, Jenkins said School Committee members have received a number of emails from parents saying they don’t want their children to have to wear masks when they return to school.

Jenkins said the “number one thing’’ people can do to avoid a fall mask mandate is to get vaccinated.

A further discussion on the specifics of a fall return will take place at a later meeting, committee members said.

“Our number one priority should be what we’re going to do in the fall,’’ Vice Chair Mary Waite said. “The next month is going to tell us a lot.’’ 

The most recent data on rising cases has Oliver worried that remote education could return if growing numbers of students report flu-like symptoms.

“It’s the last thing I want,’’ he said. “But I want to be a realist here.’’