​FCHS Rebel Mascot: School Board Vote Imminent

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Oct. 5 workshop, the Franklin County School Board again took up the issue of changing the symbolic Franklin County High School Rebel mascot. At the request of board member Linda Jones, the board voted to move the mascot discussion to the top of the agenda. More than 50 people attended the meeting.

Jones said the board had a professional obligation to hear from people in the audience who represented the school system. Vice Chair Lance Williams, who conducted the meeting, said the speakers were not on the agenda, but agreed to allow one person representing each position five minutes to speak.

“For many African-Americans the word ‘rebel’ represents hate and brutality,” said Jené Cooper, pointing to associations with white supremacy, the KKK, and the confederate flag. A mascot by definition should be “inclusive,” she stressed, citing scripture, “if one part suffers, every part suffers.” In closing, Cooper noted “a newly hired African-American teacher recently quit his job due in part to the climate in Franklin County…[the board] has the opportunity to repair the hurt felt by students of color for over 50 years.”

“My family roots in Franklin County go back 120 years,” said Michael Bradford. “I wanted to come back here because people got along so well, until now.” Refuting charges of racism, he insisted, “If there’s systemic racism, we want to know. You cannot remove racism with more racism.” Bradford questioned the logic of shaming white people with a photograph from 1942. “We’ve come a long way since then. We’ve achieved Dr. King’s dream…I see people getting along and working together and marrying. What is this [division] doing to the mixed-race children?”

A member of the African-American community objected to a decision being made on 10 minutes of discussion and requested permission to speak, but was denied.

Board member Chris Guess pointed out board members had been weighing input from county residents since July when the issue was tabled by Director of Schools Stanley Bean to allow the school system to focus on managing the pandemic.

Looking back to her student years when the county schools integrated, Jones acknowledged, “What I thought about was how it affected me, not their [African-American’s] culture…they weren’t telling us their pain…It’s our job to make sure students are protected and included.”

Making reference to the five-year plan, the other primary agenda item, board member Sarah Marhevsky referenced the increasing challenge in recruiting teachers and the importance of diversity in educators and administrators. “It would be helpful to look at the overall culture of the district and what we want to be and how we can attract people who can be role models for all the students. The message the mascot sends is important for us to consider in this discussion.”

The board is expected to vote on the mascot question at the Oct. 12 meeting.

Taking up the five-year plan, the board reviewed suggested revisions to the 2015-2020 plan. Marhevsky presented a five-year plan with detailed action steps, and STREAM coordinator Leah Harrel presented a five-year STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) plan.

Guess noted the importance of students receiving technical college credit for advance high school Career and Technical Education classes. Bean recommended including the STEM objectives as a fourth goal.

Board member Christine Hopkins praised the emphasis on Social and Emotional Learning in Marhevsky plan, which called for increasing the number of social workers and teacher SEL training. Bean observed some of Marhevsky’s proposals were budget issues.

Williams said the five-year plan was the “1,000-foot view” with many details left open ended to be implemented by Bean and according to individual school needs. Bean will incorporate suggestions and present the revised plan to the board.