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Debate over 'Chieftains' mascot at Chester school tests new Vermont law

A photo of buildings along an empty parking lot
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public File
A high school in Chester, Vermont is testing a new state law that allows residents to appeal to the state Agency of Education if local school boards won't change offensive mascots.

The Vermont Agency of Education has received its first appeal under a new state law that encourages school districts to change the name of offensive mascots.

Three people are asking the state's secretary of education to step in and force Green Mountain Union High School to change its "Chieftains" mascot after the school board voted in May to retain the name.

The Legislature last year passed a lawthat encourages school boards to voluntarily address mascots that “directly or indirectly references or stereotypes the likeness, features, symbols, traditions, or other characteristics” based on “the race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity of any person or group of persons.”

“What this law does is provide an opportunity for local communities to review their mascot to ensure that it welcomes students of all backgrounds,” said Agency of Education spokesman Ted Fisher. “It’s very important that students of all backgrounds see themselves reflected and feel that they are supported in their learning.”

“It’s very important that students of all backgrounds see themselves reflected and feel that they are supported in their learning.”
Ted Fisher, Agency of Education

Under the new law, a resident can appeal a school board decision to the Agency of Education and ask the secretary of education to review the issue.

Fisher says the three appeals from Green Mountain Union High School, which is in Chester, are the first to test the law.

“The Secretary will address complaints, and if the Secretary finds that the district branding violates the law, the district will be required to change the branding," Fisher said.

In October 2021, the Green Mountain Unified School District Board dropped a logo that showed a man wearing a Native American headdress, but the school kept the name "Chieftains."

Then in January of this year, the board voted to drop the name, which brought out a large group of local residents who opposed the move.

The board later voted to bring back the name.

More from Vermont Public: Rocky Road Away From 'The Raiders': The Controversy Over Rutland High School's Mascot

Deb Velto, who lives in Springfield, is appealing the board’s decision.

In her letter to interim Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey, Velto said the discussion in Chester has been emotional and the debate needs to be taken out of the realm of public opinion at this point.

“Professional educators, and informed board members must look at the documented evidence and testimony available and decide to retire the Chieftain faced with the evidence available,” Velto wrote. “This is the only decision that demonstrates respect for our Indigenous community, protects the mental health of our students, and ensures that this damaging dialogue and process ends once and for all in our community.”

The chairwoman of the Green Mountain Unified School District Board did not respond to a request to comment on the appeals.

The case will be considered by a hearing officer from the Agency of Education who will then pass a recommendation on to Bouchey.

Fisher, the education agency spokesman, said he expects the process to proceed quickly, though he was unable to provide a timeline for when a decision might be made.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or reach out to reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman:


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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