I'm not going to try and re-fight the battle over high school mascots--those of us who believe in freedom of expression have pretty much accepted defeat on this issue--but I do have raise some questions as to the process the Department of Public Instruction uses to strip schools of their nicknames. After reading through the "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" in the Berlin High School case, it's clear that there is absolutely no way for a school district to win a challenge to a complaint--so why even bother?
When Democrats in the Legislature and Governor Doyle passed this law back in 2009 the clear intent was to eliminate all Native American-related mascots--but rather than taking responsibility for this unpopular move and writing the bill to just make the nicknames illegal--lawmakers instead chose to have the Department of Public Instruction do their dirty work.
The deck is immediately stacked against districts by requiring them to provide the burden of proof that the mascot is NOT racist. As any criminal defense attorney will tell you, proving a negative is much harder than proving a positive. That is why in our criminal system the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendent DID commit a crime--rather than the suspect having to prove beyond a reasonalbe doubt that he or she DIDN'T do it. Add to that, the DPI is to take at face-value anyone's testimony that they are "offended" by the mascot.
In the Berlin hearing, one district resident testified that he saw students at games wearing a headress twice--once in 2001 and once in 2009. A couple of witnesses claiming to represent Wisconsin Indian Tribes--but not Berlin residents (and who have testified at other such hearings for districts where they do not reside)--testified to incidents they saw years ago as children--but again, not in Berlin--and how it traumatized them.
Meanwhile, a longer list of witnesses for the district were dismissed as failing to provide "convincing" evidence that the logo and mascot do not promote stereotyping. The expenses associated with removing all references to the current logo and mascot from buildings and jerseys was also dismissed as "irrelevant".
While there is support in the new-look Legislature for doing away with this dog-and-pony show process--it is not a top priority right now--so we are stuck with what we've got. Therefore, I propose that we use the same process for redress of other school-related grievances.
Imagine if one senior citizen here in Oshkosh this past year had filed a complaint about the 10% property tax increase--claiming it was an "undue hardship" upon them with their fixed incomes. AARP could have brought in "experts" on the negative impact such tax increases have on all retirees everywhere else. I'm guessing six members of the Oshkosh Board of Education would be testifying at the hearing claiming it really isn't "that much of a hardship"--and that the vast majority of district residents had "no problem" with tax hike. The Oshkosh Education Association would be there as well detailing the expenses their members would incur to make up for the lost tax revenue. But the DPI would be required to ignore all of those arguments--and would really have no choice but to overturn the tax increase--not just for the retiree who couldn't afford it--but for EVERYONE in the district!!
You know what, this "social justice" way of doing things might actually be better than the old "equal justice" way we used to do things.