Janesville73°

Mukwonago stands firm on Indian nickname

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Patrick Simonaitis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 14, 2013

MUKWONAGO—On the eve of a state-imposed deadline for the Mukwonago School District to change its Indian nickname, the likeness of an American Indian still adorns the school's marquee along W. School Road and the district appears intent on defying the state order.

The district faces fines that could rise to as high as $1,000 per day starting Thursday.

A spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction, the agency that ordered the nickname change, said that it is "premature to talk about consequences and fines" until the DPI has performed a compliance review.

The spokesman, Patrick Gasper, said Wednesday the review for Mukwonago has not yet been scheduled but would take place sometime later this fall. He did not comment further about how the fines would potentially be assessed, noting that Mukwonago would be the first district in the state to incur them.

As of Wednesday, "nothing's changed" with regard to the district's decision to ignore the order, according to attorney Sam Hall, who is representing the district. Hall said the district was still prepared to fight any fines should they be assessed, but that, as he told the Journal Sentinel in July, the district is seeking legislative rather than legal remedy.

Legislation that seeks to repeal the 2010 law giving DPI the power to mandate the changing of race-based nicknames has been picking up momentum. The 2010 law authorized the department to require a race-based nickname be changed if one formal complaint is brought forth within a district.

Legislation first announced in July now has 20 sponsors in the Assembly and six in the Senate, according to Hall. All the sponsors are Republicans, he said, and he was optimistic the legislation would pass if it came to a vote in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

A similar bill failed to make it past the committee stage in 2011.

In 2010, a former Mukwonago High School student submitted a complaint to DPI, triggering a hearing that resulted in an order for the school to change its nickname from the Indians. The school contended the transition to a new nickname would cost the district $50,000 in re-branding costs and requested a 36-month extension, which was granted by DPI.

During that extension, two district parents challenged the DPI ruling in court, and Waukesha County Circuit Judge Donald Hassin Jr. found that the DPI hearing violated the district's constitutional right to due process because, among other factors, the employee overseeing the hearing had a high risk of bias. Hassin ordered a hold on the DPI ruling, and the name was allowed to remain.

Hassin's ruling was overturned in the state Court of Appeals earlier this year. The appellate court found that the parents did not have standing to sue DPI, thereby reinstating the order for the school to change the nickname.

This summer, the state Supreme Court elected not to hear the case, and the DPI reinstated the district's Aug. 15 deadline to comply.

In July, however, the Mukwonago Area School Board voted to ignore the state mandate and seek legislation in Madison that would repeal the 2010 law, which it still views as unconstitutional despite the appellate ruling.

Tribal officials have publicly called for the end to Indian-related nicknames and logos across the state in recent years. In July, Mike Allen, executive director of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, which represents 11 federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin, said he was disappointed by the district's fight to keep the name.

"These nicknames and logos are inappropriate and contribute to stereotypes and an improper understanding of Indian history and culture," he said.

Earlier this week in Berlin, a judge ordered Berlin High School to change its nickname from the Indians by July 1, 2014, after Hall and the parents who brought that suit agreed to drop the case. Hall said the Berlin School District would also be lobbying for the repeal bill.



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