Cambridge School Board votes to file legal appeal to keep Indians mascot

The school board in Cambridge voted Wednesday evening to appeal Education Commissioner Betty Rosa’s order to drop the Indians mascot. The resolution passed 3-2.

Board members on both sides said they voted based on principle, and this wasn’t just about a mascot. Some felt it was important to appeal because they said Cambridge was singled out. Some members said the education commissioner was not singling out Cambridge, but ordering them to drop the Indians name because a previous school board had voted to do so before this board overturned that.

Board President Jessica Ziehm said she was voting in favor of the legal appeal because she believes the commissioner’s decision was an over step of power. Caleb Breault said he was voting ‘yes’ because it’s what the kids in the district want.

“This vote tonight, this decision that I’ve been thinking about round and round and round, for me, is more about our rights as a community, as a school district, the democratic process, more than it is even about the mascot,” said Ziehm.

Board member Neil Gifford, who voted ‘no,’ said he thought the commissioner’s decision was not about the mascot, but about the board overturning a previous decision.

He also questioned the impact the appeal would have on the district’s relationship with the education department, which is a critical source of funding. But Ziehm pointed out that another critical source of funding are community members, many of whom have said they want the mascot.

“The crux of the commissioner’s decision was based not on the mascot but on the fact that a new board undid a previous board’s decision, and she included several precedents in her decision. She then talked about the mascot, but principally, it wasn’t about the mascot,” said Gifford.

“A duly elected school board majority made a completely legal vote, and it was overturned based on opinion. And that is a matter of principle that we need to stand up for. Without rehashing the specifics on the mascot decision, so as we’ve said, there is a lot of matter of principle that goes into this, and protecting the process of a school board functioning as it should,” added Shay Price, who voted ‘yes.’

At last week’s Cambridge Central School Board meeting, a group of community members and parents refused to wear masks, and the board president adjourned the meeting.

Wednesday, the meeting was virtual because of the issues at last week’s meeting. However, the board took up the same agenda they would have, including the resolution to fight the state Education Department (NYSED) to keep the Indians name and mascot.

At the end of November, the state told Cambridge they’d have to drop the mascot by this July. The resolution calls that decision by Education Commissioner Betty Rosa "beyond the lawful authority of the commissioner" and "arbitrary or capricious."

It goes on to let the school board’s attorney out of Albany to file a legal appeal, which it suggests could be filed in Supreme Court in Albany County.