Rochester schools seek mascot approval after forced change

Rochester Public Schools officials gave more details Tuesday into how they plan to replace the bison mascot at Dakota Middle School.

The district chose the bison for the middle school in 2022 after getting community feedback and working with a local Native American advisory board. They also considered using stars as a mascot, which also has significance to Dakota people.

The district’s Native American education staff told the Rochester Public Schools Board Tuesday night they will seek permission from Minnesota’s Tribal Nations Education Committee to use the stars mascot by the start of the next school year. If the committee denies Rochester’s request, the district will have to start the mascot process all over again.

Dakota staff told parents in an email last week the school must change its mascot under a new state law banning public schools from using nicknames, logos or mascots that are tied to Native Americans.

Exceptions can be made, but only if a district gets permission from one of Minnesota’s 11 federally recognized tribes and the Tribal Nations Education Committee. Several tribes denied Rochester’s request in recent weeks, according to district officials.

Will Ruffin, the district’s director of equity and engagement, said the mascot change was about honoring how Native Americans felt about bison as part of their culture.

“It’s not for us to debate what’s right or what’s wrong,” he said. “We just honor their request to change it, not because it’s the law but because it’s the right thing to do.”

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