Scio Rep. Sherrie Sprenger recently started the long process of fulfilling a promise she made to Oregon schools, its Native American tribes and Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Sprenger recently paid a visit to the Lebanon School Board to brief trustees about a law she helped pass this session. The bill overhauled state policy regarding the use of Native American mascots by school districts.
As part of the negotiations over the bill, Sprenger offered to visit every school district affected by the law. Her visit to Lebanon started the process.
Sprenger’s path to last week’s Lebanon School Board meeting started in 2012, when the state Board of Education passed a sweeping ban forbidding public schools from using Native American mascots. Schools that ignored the ban ran the risk of losing state funding. (In the mid-valley, Lebanon High School and Philomath High School both still use the “Warriors” nickname and feature some Native American imagery.)
Sprenger thought the ban overreached, and we agreed. She started pushing for a compromise measure, in which districts could continue to use a Native American mascot if they entered into agreements to do so with one of Oregon’s federally recognized Native American tribes.
As the representative explained last week to Lebanon’s school trustees, the bill that finally passed the Legislature last session kicks the issue back to the state Board of Education, which is now charged with establishing the specific rules by which school districts can use Native American mascots.
The board has yet to develop those rules, but it’s a good bet that the process will force school districts to build relationships with their local tribes. That’s been part of Sprenger’s idea from the start. In fact, she encouraged trustees not to wait for the rules, but to start now to reach out to local tribes.
In the case of Lebanon, that would be the Calapooia tribe. The principal at Lebanon High School, Brad Shreve, said he’s started the process of connecting with the tribe.
Sprenger has said her original goal in all of this was to foster wide-ranging and honest discussions between tribes and school districts — the kind of free-wheeling discussion that can allow students some real-world insights.
Let’s hope that turns out to the result of the conversations between the Lebanon School District and the Calapooia tribe.
And let’s hope that Sprenger’s remaining journeys — the result of a promise she seems serious about keeping — result in similar discussions throughout Oregon.