Chieftain defense costs top $10,000 thus far Hearings with three appellants have yet to be scheduled

By Shawn Cunningham
©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Green Mountain Unified School District thus far has spent $10,000 defending its decision to continue using the word Chieftain as a mascot name, and a hearing before the Agency of Education has yet to be held. Once the hearing gets under way, those costs are expected to grow. The spending figures come from invoices The Telegraph received through a Public Records Act request.

Carrie King asks the board to answer several questions about its approach to the policy at it’s April 11 hearing to receive complaints about violating the E5 policy.

Back in May, the board of the GMUSD voted that the word Chieftain did not violate its own school branding policy, a policy that the state mandated schools to adopt. While a majority of the board believed that it did violate the policy, the wording of the question for the vote and a poor internet connection resulted in the opposite decision. 

The policy says, “school branding that directly or indirectly references or stereotypes the likeness, features, symbols, traditions, or other characteristics that are specific to either: (A) the race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity of any person or group of persons” or those associated with “the repression of others.”

Two board members contacted by The Telegraph say they had no knowledge of the legal strategy or the scale of the spending. The AOE has not yet set a date for hearing the appeal. A hearing – or hearings – would likely push that number higher.

The mascot has been an issue for a number of years. In October 2021, the board voted to stop using the logo that featured the silhouette of an apparently Native American man wearing a Plains Indian headdress. The board kept the Chieftain name but in January of this year, it adopted the model policy “Nondiscriminatory Mascots and School Branding” put out by the Vermont School Boards Association. During that meeting, the board voted 7 – 2 to “retire” the Chieftain name, but a month later it reversed itself by a vote of 6 -4.

In response, the board received complaints from a number of individuals as well as the NAACP and Gedakina, a Native American organization, and on April 11 it held a hearing to receive those complaints. Under the statute, the board had 45 days to say whether the Chieftain name violated the policy or not and to outline the basis for its decision.

Deb Velto presents her arguments for why the Chieftain remains linked to a Native American logo at the April 11 hearing

On May 24, the GM board issued a decision saying that the name did not violate the policy and three private citizens  — Carrie Roy King, Deb Velto and Matthew Gorsky — appealed to the Secretary of Education as prescribed in the Act 152 which mandated nondiscriminatory branding in Vermont schools.

It wasn’t until July 10 that a remote meeting was held with the three appellants, attorney Mick Leddy representing the school board and AOE General Counsel Emily Simmons acting as the hearing officer. According to Gorsky and Velto, the parties agreed that appellants could have separate hearings  and time to present evidence and witnesses that they could not during the school board’s April 11 hearing.

But on Aug. 17, Simmons informed the appellants that the district would be seeking a different way to hear the appeal. Simmons gave Leddy one week to submit the request and one week for King, Velto and Gorsky to answer. The appellants do not have an attorney.

Leddy’s request was threefold:

  • That the three appeals be consolidated into one proceeding,
  • That the appeal not be a “contested case,” and
  • That the appeal should be an “on the record review. “

Matt Gorsky speaks to the issue at the April 11 hearing

While Leddy’s request was expressed in terms of saving time and AOE resources, they could present other advantages to GM’s case. For example, under Vermont’s administrative procedures, a contested case may be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, something GM would want to avoid. And an “on the record review” would only focus on testimony and procedures at the April 11 school board hearing. Instead, a  “de novo review” would allow the appellants to present to the hearing officer even more information, including witnesses.

All three appellants say that the Leddy’s requests go directly against the agreement that they arrived at with him during a July 10 video conference in which Simmons attended. In his response to the motion, Gorsky called changing the rules after they had been set “dirty pool.”

A screen shot of the January 2023 meeting in which the GM board ‘retired” the Chieftain

It appears that the AOE understood the agreement from the July meeting because in the same Aug. 17 email in which Simmons alerted King, Velto and Gorsky to Leddy’s procedural request, she also asked each appellant to provide at least three dates after Sept. 11 when they would each be available for two hours so they could have their hearings. She also said that one week prior to that date they would be required to disclose the names of witnesses they planned to call to testify.

On the same day that Leddy submitted the procedural request, he said in an email, that after the July 10 video conference, they contemplated having the appeal completed by the beginning of school in the fall. He then predicted that the decision would “come in October at the earliest” while calling for measures to streamline the process and make it more “efficient.”

The appellants could submit exhibits like this taken on January 1, 2023 Courtesy Project Mascot

In response to Leddy’s request, the three agreed to have their appeals heard together – although they pointed out that each had presented separate evidence. They also rejected his request for an “on the record review” and viewing the case as not a contested one.

King and Velto say that their appeal is especially important since it is the first action under Act 152. In King’s response to Leddy’s request she says that the the situation “demands nothing short of meticulous consideration … rushing is not an option.”

As of publication time, no date has been set for any hearings and, according to King, the AOE has not acknowledged the receipt of her response to Leddy’s request.

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  1. Victoria Rose says:

    Here’s what you can find when you “look it up”

    “The usage of Native American mascots is racist not only because it involves stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans, but (more specifically) because it treats Native persons simply as a means to symbolic unification-and not, importantly, as members of the community they thus serve. In other words, in these cases mascots work as unifying signifiers precisely by being the purely instrumental facilitator of a group’s collective fantasy of itself”

    This can be found on JSTOR with the title; On the Particular Racism of Native American Mascots by Erin C. Tarver

  2. Victoria Rose says:

    Complaining about virtue signaling is a dog whistle racists use to undermine legitimate criticism of racism. You can’t even name the tribes indigenous to Vermont! Yikes!

  3. Joshua Carlisle says:

    As a class of 1991 alumni and having attended both C.A.E.S
    and GMUHS it saddens me to see people that never expressed any problem with either the name or the Mascot to start virtue signaling in this way,neither the mascot nor the name are racist by definition nor were they used in that way but don’t believe me look it up better yet ask the Native American tribes themselves such as the Sioux nation that offered to come and give a talk about all of this.

  4. D. Velto says:

    The board members who voted to keep the “Chieftain” name are Scott Kendall, Rick Alexander, Adrienne Williams, and Jeff Hance, and supported by Deb Brown.

  5. Craig Miller says:

    So maybe change it to “The Carlins” in honor of all this foolishness?

  6. Evan Parks says:

    “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”

    -John Ruskin

  7. Raymond Makul says:

    I am reminded of the Faber College Marching Band in the movie, “National Lampoon’s Animal House’. In that movie, the marching band in the parade is led to march down a dead end alley, where they all pile up and cannot escape. To quote Shakespeare, “What Fools these mortals be.:

  8. Mike Farrell says:

    I’m unfamiliar with many school board rules, but how is it legal to allocate tax payer funds to defend a racist name/mascot without at least a vote in public? I think it would be important to know which school board members voted to waste taxpayer money defending this, so I know who not to vote for when their names are on the ballot.Clearly education is not their priority or strong suit for that matter.

  9. Victoria Rose says:

    And if I may add to my last statement further;

    If you think the students deserve better, they also deserve a better team name. Because we all saw a student say they were experiencing racist bullying in the same meeting the board decided to enable that further. . .

  10. Whether it’s the police costing the town 50k for racial profiling or the board members, some of whom are unelected, wasting another 10k over a racist team name; racism is still the problem, not the people who have a problem with it.

    Rock the boat, or be doomed with the consequences of racists running your town into the ground.

  11. G Farrugia says:

    I completely agree with A. Wilson.
    The support of the chieftain name is a single argument.
    Paying to uphold the name is a separate thing altogether and one that should require another vote from the board in my opinion.
    The board ultimately agreed the name chieftain was acceptable, but no evidence that I am aware of was given as to the nature of the costs required to defend this legally.
    Our schools, teachers, students are in need of more resources, education, facilities upgrades, etc. is there a stopgap in place if costs exceed the legal fees budget? Where do funds come from then or is the process halted? Is there any transparency to this process?
    This seems to take away from our students. Our students deserve better.

  12. A Wilson says:

    If the district has $10,000 in taxpayer funds to spend, they should be spending it on educational programming, professional development and/or safety measures, things which have a direct impact on the student experience, NOT on legal fees. That is an incredible example of poor fiscal management of our money, regardless of one’s stance on the Chieftain name. I suspect that if more board members had been aware of the financial impact that their decision would incur, some might have made a different decision.