'Symbols Are Important': Hays CISD Retires Rebel Mascot, Citing Racist History

Jul 17, 2020

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After decades of representing Hays High School in Buda, the rebel mascot will retire.

The Hays Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to discontinue its use. At a special meeting, many board members said it was "impossible" to separate the mascot from its racist history.

The rebel mascot is a cartoon-like character dressed in the garb of a Confederate soldier, often appearing alongside a Confederate flag.

The decision comes as schools across the country are reckoning with institutional racism and confront the past in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. In an emotional testimony before the vote, board President Esperanza Orosco reflected on the time she first saw the Confederate flag.

“The last time I really thought about the Confederate flag was when I was in second grade and I was in a field trip to the Alamo, and the KKK was there and they chased us up the bus,” Orosco said before pausing to hold back tears. “And I remember at that time people yelling and calling us spics and wetbacks and saying to our teacher: Why don't you send them back to Mexico? I remembered that and being so frightened of those people in white hoods.”

The use of Confederate symbols at Hays CISD has been a reoccurring issue for decades. The district eliminated the Confederate flag as an official school symbol in 2000, and again in 2012 because it still appeared on school uniforms. The marching band stopped playing "Dixie," considered the anthem of the Confederacy, in 2015.

At Thursday's meeting, Orosco said “symbols are important” and thanked students who came forward asking for change.

The effort to remove the mascot was largely student led — students formed a committee to replace the mascot and started a petition that received more than 500 signatures. Hays CISD also sent more than 2,000 surveys to students, gauging their comfort level with the mascot. Of those who responded, nearly 60% showed little to no comfort with the rebel mascot.

Recommending the change, district spokesperson Tim Savoy said a mascot has to be something "people can rally around." But he also recommended postponing the selection of a new one. 

"There's just no way, even if you picked a mascot tonight, that we could get it to graphic designers to come up with an actual logo and then order uniforms," he told the board. "They take months sometimes to get. We don't have months before the start of school. And with COVID, you know, there are delays in delivery."

The board voted to allow Superintendent Eric Wright to choose a new mascot once he gets more input from students. The selection process will start once students return to school this year, whether that’s in-person or virtually. The district is shifting the school calendar so the first day is Sept. 8. All instruction will be online for the first three weeks. After that, it will be up to parents to decide whether they want to keep their kids at home or send them back to school. More information on the district's reopening plan can be found here

In the meantime, the school will begin phasing out use of the mascot, though technically Hays High School students will continue to be the Rebels until a new mascot is selected. Students who are uncomfortable with the mascot can cover any references to it on their uniforms.

The change is estimated to cost no more than $300,000 for the 2020-2021 fiscal year; that includes patching or replacing student uniforms and replacing references to rebels that are painted on surfaces of the campus or on signs, including the campus gym floor.

While he agreed the mascot needed to go, board member Willie Tenorio said was it “a visible marker that can be put away,” but work still needs to be done to address less visual issues of race and equity.

“There are other recent changes at Hays CISD that decreased opportunity for many of our students,” he said. “The [Advancement Via Individual Determination] program, available almost everywhere in the Austin metro area, was removed from our high schools, even though it is proven to increase the number of first-generation college students and multiplies the number of students in Advanced Placement classes.”

AVID is a nonprofit that helps schools shift to a more equitable, student-centered approach.

“Removing the mascot is a step, but there are other inequities still left,” Tenorio said.

Got a tip? Email Riane at rroldan@kut.org Follow her on Twitter @RianeRoldan.

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