BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern High School District Board of Trustees met Monday evening to discuss — among other things — the possibility of changing South High School’s team nickname, the Rebels.
The question before the board: Should the school — which has been the home of the Rebels since its founding in 1957 — join schools across the country that have dropped mascots evoking the Confederacy — and, by association, slavery in America?
Sixty-three years and perhaps 30,000 graduates after South first opened its doors, there is serious discussion about that school mascot. Today in America there’s a new sensitivity to symbols — including team names — that evoke this country’s past subjugation of Native Americans — and African Americans.
And in this year of turbulence and change, the debate over those symbols has come to a head.
Just in the past few weeks schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., Richmond, Va., Austin, Texas, Seattle and Indianapolis, all nicknamed the Rebels, have voted to change their mascots.
But at Monday’s Kern High School District board meeting, the only comment was in opposition. District Communications Officer Debbie Thompson read a letter from Tim Powers.
“The call to remove this (mascot) is a knee jerk reaction because it is the popular thing to do,” Powers wrote. “Leave our history in Kern County alone.”
Last month, South High Principal Connie Grumling said she would assemble a special committee to review the school’s Rebel mascot. But on Monday District Superintendent Byron Schaefer announced that she will get some help making a determination. The KHSD is now soliciting comments from the community via email — firstname.lastname@example.org.
This discussion comes amid clamor and outcry across the U.S. to replace public symbols that evoke past sins of the nation. Most recently, we saw the House of Representatives vote to purge from the U.S. Capitol all statues and memorials to persons associated with the Confederacy.
There’s passion on both sides of the question of whether or not to keep the name Rebels. But this is 2020 and 2020 is all about change, both trivial and monumental.
In other action the board voted push back the start of the school year by eight instruction days.
The board also voted not to compel teachers to teach in the classroom this year. Rather, teachers will have to option to decide whether they’ll come to campus or teach from their homes, as most have been doing since the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools March 17.