In Search of a New Identity – Replacing the Rebel Name

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Thursday February 23, 2017

The South Burlington School Board voted unanimously on February 1 to support Superintendent David Young’s recommendation to retire the Rebel name. Last week, at the February 15 board meeting, Young outlined a preliminary process for removing and replacing the identifier by August of this year. The course of action includes the development of a committee to work on the process and criteria to keep in mind while considering a new name and mascot. He also provided cost estimates for replacing uniforms and signage.

Young provided a hand-out and reviewed the history of the issue, beginning with the first round of discussions, which resulted in the board’s unanimous decision in October 2015 to keep the Rebel name, and included an action plan on how to move forward to ensure the principals of diversity, equity, and inclusion were furthered. After that decision, a survey was given to high school students in December 2015. The survey asked for basic information such as gender identity and race, then asked how comfortable or uncomfortable individuals were with the Rebel name, three words that came to mind when thinking of the term “rebel” and ideas for new traditions that celebrate being a Rebel. Over 580 of the school’s 884 students took the survey. Complete results of the student survey have not been made available.

Teachers and staff were given access to the results of the student survey and were asked to take a similar survey. Over 100 staff members, including 60 teachers, took the survey in January 2016. Of concern to Young was the high number of teachers, 47 percent, who expressed they were uncomfortable with the continued use of the identifier. Activities related to the branding were postponed as the administration considered future steps.

These concerns, coupled with the action of student groups–primarily the student diversity union, frustration around the lack of movement on the re-branding effort, studies from the Pew Research Center and stories from students, community members, and staff, all led the superintendent and board to take decisive action in February 2017, and reverse their earlier decision.

Choosing a new name and mascot

A draft for the selection process, as well as criteria for considering a new South Burlington mascot, was presented to the board. This includes forming a committee with diverse representation of students (4 from each class 2017-2023), staff members (3-high school, 2-middle school, 1-central office), 3 parents (1 chosen by Boosters), the alumni director and 3 alumni. A period of time of at least three weeks would be established for the committee to accept suggestions for a new mascot via various mediums. Then after narrowing the list, a vote would be held for students and staff in grades six through 12 with the results published for community comment.

The new mascot criteria include the goals of being unifying, being clearly distinct from the current identifier–in other words not using the Rebel name in combination with the new name, broadly relevant, representative of the SB experience or history, and working equally well for women’s and men’s sports. Initial questions from the board included how committee members would be chosen and what the role of the superintendent would be.

How much will it cost?

Young also revealed preliminary figures for the cost of re-branding. Costs were broken down into categories of facilities–for signage and changes related to athletic fields and gyms, athletic uniforms, and equipment. Some expenses are in the regular maintenance and uniform replacement rotation, and those costs are already covered.

The estimated cost of changes to the facilities would total $31,230. This includes changes to scoreboards, signs, floor tiles in shower areas, the press-box, grandstand and gym floor. Of this figure, $25,100 has already been included in the budget as part of the upgrade to the gym from bond funds. There are sufficient funds in the repair budget for facilities to cover the remaining $6,100.

The estimated cost of replacing uniforms at the high school is $130,000, with $9,350 at the middle school for a total of $139,350. An extensive list of athletic uniform needs includes a breakdown of each team and the cost and number of each item used. This number includes all of the equipment needs which were presented in subcategories of ‘needed to compete’ such as jerseys for home and away competitions, and other items that would be ‘nice to have,’ like practice jerseys and warm-up suits.

The total estimated cost of changing the Rebel name on uniforms and facilities is $170,580, the total currently available to cover these expenses is $73,615, for a potential funding gap of $96,965.

Community Feedback

Since the board made their unanimous decision to change the Rebel name, a number of Facebook groups have been formed where people are voicing their support or disdain for the change. Off-line, tensions were palpable at the February 15 meeting where students and residents alike voiced their concerns; some even going so far as to say they would vote down the school budget as a result of the decision to remove the Rebel name. Four middle school students spoke about their disappointment in not being included in the student survey. There were also accusations that the board was deliberately skewing information to support their positions, along with calls to release more specific results of the student survey that was given in December 2015. However, Young said he was hesitant to do so, given that some of the survey details could identify specific students or groups.

On the flip side, resident David Shiman said he sat on the very first diversity committee the district had and said this “three part” item was an issue in the 50s; the flag, the mascot, and the name were all seen as problematic. “Although this is a time of division,” Shiman said, “we will rebuild a community and school where everyone feels welcome.”

The district website will be updated as information becomes available and an update will be provided on process at the next board meeting, March 8.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent