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Thursday, March 21 , 2019, 3:18 am | A Few Clouds 47º


Carpinteria School Candidates Weigh In on Indian Mascot

The three candidates for two board seats have varying opinions on which images are acceptable — and how the decision to ban them was made

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From the sign right out in front and throughout the campus, Carpinteria High School‘s warrior imagery is everywhere. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

When the Carpinteria school board sparked an uproar in April over its decision to banish the American Indian imagery associated with the high school’s Warriors nickname, many residents complained that their voices had not been heard.

But on Election Day this fall, Carpinteria residents may have the ultimate chance to exercise their voice — as voters. Each of the three candidates vying for two open seats on the Carpinteria Unified School District board has a distinct position on the matter.

The candidate most opposed to the idea of abolishing the imagery is Lou Panizzon, who spent 32 years at his alma mater, Carpinteria High, as a teacher, football coach and administrator before retiring as its principal in 2002.

Most in favor of the ban is Royce Stauffer, a retired chemist at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

In the middle is the race’s lone incumbent, Terry Hickey Banks, who voted against the motion to abolish the imagery but has since said it was the board’s process that she opposed, not necessarily the substance of the ban. The motion passed 3-2, with trustees Leslie Deardorff, Bevery Grant and Amrita Salm voting for it, and Banks and Alex Pulido dissenting.

The school has had its Indian mascot since 1928. One of the logos depicts the head of an American Indian in full headdress, and appears on football jerseys, a school mural, the school’s marquee statue and other school property. (Click here to see various photos of the imagery.)

The firestorm began in March, with a complaint to the school board from a student, Elias Cordero, who is part Chumash. The matter was put on the school board agenda for April 22, and the board voted for the ban on the same day. However, it’s yet to be determined which — if any — of the school’s logos will be removed. In mid-May, the board decided the matter should be studied by a committee, whose charge is to return to the board with a recommendation.

On Tuesday night, the committee will convene for the first time at Carpinteria High.

Ultimately, the school board will have the last word, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the voters will have a say in the Nov. 4 election. That hinges on whether the committee finishes its work before the new board takes over in December.

Salm, who is not running for re-election, said she hopes the recommendation will come in time for the current board to vote on it. But she said she has no idea how long it will take.

“There are some who want it to be voted on by the new board, and some who don’t,” she said.

As for the candidates, Panizzon, 67, said he has yet to be convinced that the logo is offensive.

“I was the football coach for many years, and I had nothing but positive experiences with all of that,” he said. “I’m having a hard time as a former coach and player and community member saying that what we were doing for all those years was bad. That doesn’t necessarily mean I was right, but that’s how I feel.”

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Carpinteria High’s sports team logo is a fierce warrior. (Carpinteria High School photo)

Panizzon added that he plans to listen carefully to what the committee has to say.

Like Banks, Panizzon said his biggest beef with the board is process. He said there was no reason for the board members to vote as swiftly as they did.

“They agendized it one time,” he said, adding that about 29 people attended the meeting. “Each person had three minutes to speak. They didn’t really have a community forum or debate. But (the board) went ahead and voted on it that night. … You don’t solve an issue like this in one board meeting.”

Panizzon, an outgoing board member with the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District, said he wants the main message of his campaign to underline not the mascot matter, but rather what he sees as a larger issue of process: the board, he said, needs to do a better job conducting its business.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Stauffer. A longtime close observer of school board meetings, Stauffer said he believes the board made the correct decision back in April.

“No one should be using a human being as a mascot any more than they would use a human being as a slave,” he said.

Like Panizzon, Stauffer said he doesn’t want the mascot dust-up to define his candidacy. Nonetheless, it’s clear that he — like Panizzon — has strong feelings on the topic.

In July, Stauffer, 90, extrapolated his views about the mascot matter in a letter to the editor of Carpinteria’s weekly newspaper, the Coastal View News.

In the letter, Stauffer wrote that a tradition that began in 1928 isn’t reason enough to keep the mascot.

“How were things in 1928?” he wrote. “The Ku Klux Klan had a large and active membership. Schools and the Army were segregated and comedians appeared in blackface mimicking the supposed defects in the negro character for the amusement of white audiences.”

The letter went on to say that segregation has even existed in Carpinteria, noting how Aliso School was once designated for Mexican students, and how theaters and beaches once had separate areas for Mexicans.

“Children, who are not being taught proper respect for their fellow man, are being damaged by the school system,” he wrote.

As for Banks, she — like Panizzon — believes the board acted too hastily in April. However, she said she does find some of the school’s imagery offensive, particularly the head that is embossed on the helmets and lettermen’s jackets of the football team.

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A mural of an American Indian in full headdress has been a fixture at Carpinteria High for years. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

“There’s an Indian head that is very savage-looking,” she said. “It looks evil, it looks mean. It’s not the noble, proud figurehead you would see even in a lot of the Indian warhead depictions. … I don’t care for it.”

But Banks, a board member since 1995, said she doesn’t necessarily agree that all the imagery should be dumped.

For instance, she said, the bust of an Indian head by the school marquee doesn’t strike her as offensive.

“Having graduated in 1974, I have never felt anything but pride related to our images,” she said. “But I’m willing to listen and to understand the other side of this issue.”

Banks, 51, said she agrees with the current direction of enlisting a committee to look at the issue.

“I actually believe there will be some recommendations for change,” she said. “I would actually be surprised if there wasn’t.”

Meanwhile, Salm said the mascot furor had no bearing on her decision to step aside.

“I knew I wasn’t going to run a long time ago,” she said.

Salm, who plans to travel to India to teach, said some supporters of the imagery have been verbally abusive at board meetings.

“There are people who are sending (board member) Beverly Grant messages saying they are going to recall her as soon as they can,” she said.

Of course, the Indian imagery isn’t the only issue facing the candidates. Others are less sensational, yet important, such as what to do with crowded Summerland School, and whether the school district — whose student population has been steadily declining for years — should sell off two vacant properties.

What’s more, over the next few years the new school board is likely to inherit a nice problem: what to do with extra money. This school year, the Carpinteria district is expected to enter into an enviable funding status known as “Basic Aid.” The designation essentially means Carpinteria probably soon will have considerably more money per pupil than the average California school district. Basic aid befalls about 5 percent of the state’s school districts, and occurs naturally in districts where the enrollment is low enough, and the property-tax proceeds high enough.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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