ROCKVILLE – A local parent is asking board of education members to ban staffers and students from wearing jerseys and clothing with the Washington Redskins name or logo at Montgomery County Public Schools.
Jared Hautamaki, a Native American MCPS parent, addressed the board of education Tuesday, requesting the dress code change the same day the board voted to declare November as American Indian Heritage Month.
The Native American Bar Association D.C. is scheduled to meet Oct. 27 to discuss a resolution which would be sent to the board of education reinforcing Hautamaki’s request, said Hautamaki a NABA D.C. board member.
In the letter, the NABA would ask the MCPS board of education to amend the dress code to prohibit staff and students from wearing sports team merchandise bearing Native American mascots, which Hautamaki said is offensive to Native Americans.
He said the local National Football League team logo is “a stereotyped image of a Plains Indian.”
Hautamaki, whose son attends kindergarten at Highland Elementary School, said he does not think students and staff at public schools should be permitted to wear clothing bearing what he considered a racial slur.
“My kids deserve an environment free from racism and stereotype images,” said Hautamaki, later adding “It’s not just a slur; it’s a problem with cultural appropriation.”
The decision whether to place the ban is not up to him but to the County government.
MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig said parents in the past expressed similar sentiments at a few county schools and in each case, the staff addressed the complaint within the school.
Tofig said this will continue to be the solution.
“At this point, it is definitely a school issue and we’re handling it as such,” he said.
North Potomac resident Dawn Houle, who is also Native American, said when her family went to a Germantown Green Turtle restaurant last year, which happened to be showing a Redskins football game, her son, then age 7, asked about why people made fun of Native Americans.
A man dressed in buckskin and a headdress hooted, hollered and screamed, and then walked around the restaurant asking to take a picture with families there, said Houle.
When the man approached Houle’s table, Houle said her family refused and requested takeout.
“My child was horrified and terrified (by the impression),” she said.
Houle, who grew up on the Chippewa Cree reservation in Montana, mentioned her son is the only Native American at his elementary school.
She said she wished the Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder would change the team mascot.
“Why it is specifically offensive to me and my family is that there is a complete lack of understanding of the first people in our country,” Houle said.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently signed a bill into law banning the name Redskins and its associated logos from schools.
Meredith Curtis, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said the proposed ban on clothing with the Redskins name or logo might be considered permissible.
“Given recent court rulings, in a public school context such a resolution to prohibit wearing the logo of the Washington, D.C. NFL team might be permissible,” Curtis said.
Curtis referenced the 2013 court case Hardwick v. Heyward, during which upheld a Confederate Flag ban.
“As part of the ruling in that case, the court went back to the Civil Rights Era to find that the ban was justified because historical racial tensions in the area created a reasonable threat of disruption,” Curtis said.
Houle’s husband, Milo Booth, said part of what makes the logo offensive is people may think that is how Native Americans should look.
He said it is harmful to the development of Native American children because they may think they are someone else’s mascot or stuffed animal.
He said the mascot is “borderline caricaturish.”
“People are influenced by what they see on television – either in athletics or a John Wayne movie,” said Booth. “This affects the way other races perceive Native Americans and how natives perceive themselves. If people never see who fits that description, they think they’re not offending anybody.
“I think we should be the ones telling our next generation what’s acceptable, what they should be saying, how they should be acting,” added Booth.