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Private Bethesda school to students: No Redskins gear allowed

Bethesda school to students: No Redskins gear allowed (ABC7)

BETHESDA, Md. (ABC7) — The Washington Redskins team name and logo has been outright banned from a private school in Bethesda due to alleged racial insensitivity.

As online publication Bethesda Beat first reported Monday, Green Acres School made the announcement late last week (full letter below) following months of in-depth discussion.

“I don’t think it was an easy decision," Head of School Neal Brown told ABC7.

During the spring, a third grade class at Green Acres was completing a unit on Native Americans when the namesake of Washington's NFL team was debated. A middle school class also took up the issue, as did the school's diversity committee. Brown ultimately came to the conclusion that sporting Redskins clothing and paraphernalia on campus was not appropriate.

“I feel that the name of the team is a racial slur," said Brown. "I think the logo, at best, is an ethic stereotype, at worst it’s deeply demeaning.”

Green Acres School is not affiliated with any religion or organization. It does, however, preach inclusion. In fact, in 1934 it became the first racially integrated school in Montgomery County. Now 83 years later, the Redskins embargo is the institution's latest step towards political correctness.

“We’re not trying to tell kids what to do when they’re not here at school. We’re not trying to discourage anyone from supporting our local team. We’re not trying to tell other schools what to do. We’re not even trying to send any message to the team. We’re just trying to do what we think is right for this community, with our history and our mission and our values," Brown explained.

Green Acres School enrolls around 300 children, from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. According to Brown, a few students identify as being Native American or having such heritage.

Despite sharp and steady criticism from outsiders, Brown claims the response from parents, staff and the student body has been overwhelmingly warm and understanding.

“Since I sent the letter out on Friday, every response I’ve gotten has been positive," Brown remarked. “And I want to be clear, I support the local football team and we want our kids and staff to continue to do that.”

One part of the new policy that is not set in stone: enforcement and discipline guidelines. Brown explains it will depend on the student's age. For a first time violation, teachers might provide alternative clothing and/or call the student's parents to offer a friendly reminder about the ban on the burgundy and gold.

When asked if the ban will include other potentially racially insensitive team names, such as the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Chiefs, Brown said no. The focus, at least for now, is strictly on the Washington Redskins.

“At the end of the day, we felt, and I feel strongly, that wearing clothing with the name of our local football team or the logo, that those are really against our school’s mission, and our diversity statement," Brown concluded.

Read the letter in its entirety below:

Dear Families,

Last year, our community engaged in thoughtful and open discussions about the wearing of the Washington professional football team logo and the use of the term “Redskins” on campus. We first talked about it in the Staff Diversity Committee, then as a full staff, then with all of our Middle School students, and finally with several parents who joined members of the administration and the Inclusion and Diversity Committee. Students in grade 3 also raised the issue during their study of Native Americans, and then they and the 6th graders engaged in a discussion of ethnically and/or racially–derived sports team logos as part of last year’s celebration of MLK Day.

Perspectives varied in each of these discussions, as one would suspect. The local football team has been around a long time and has experienced great successes; loyalty to this beloved team and passion for the game of football are understandably strong among many of our students, families, and staff members. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with rooting for one’s team.

At the same time, the term “Redskin” is a racial slur. Its use, whether intentional or not, can be deeply insulting and offensive. It is a term that demeans a group of people. Similarly, the team’s logo also can reasonably be viewed as racially demeaning. At best, the image is an ethnic stereotype that promotes cultural misunderstanding; at worst, it is intensely derogatory.

As such, having students or staff members on campus wearing clothing with this name and/or this team logo feels profoundly at odds with our community’s mission and values. We pledge in our Diversity Statement to foster both “an inclusive and uplifting community” and “a sense of belonging for everyone in the Green Acres community.” Similarly, our Statement of Inclusion calls upon us to “welcome people of any race, national, or ancestral origin,” among other social identifiers. Further, as our guidelines for “appropriate dress” in the Community Handbook require students to “dress in ways that demonstrate respect for others,” we cannot continue to allow children or staff members—however well intentioned—to wear clothing that disparages a race of people.

As a community that highly values diverse points of view and individual expression, this decision is a challenge for us. Our Philosophy Statement both “encourages respect for others,” while also “celebrating individuality.” At times like these, these two concepts come into conflict. We expect our students in particular to express themselves as individuals, to be themselves, to share their interests, and not to conform to peer pressure. After listening to students, parents, and colleagues, though, I believe that our need to be respectful and truly inclusive outweighs our need to support individual expression in this case.

I ask that you please not send your children to school wearing clothing with either the team name or logo in the year and years to come. I will be speaking with students to share with them my decision and to enlist their understanding and support. Additionally, we invite you to reach out to us with any questions you may have about how to discuss this with your child.

I am grateful to everyone who participated in these important conversations—and for the opportunity to lead a community dedicated to instilling in each of our students a deep respect for all people.

Sincerely,

Neal M. Brown, Ed.D.

Head of School

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