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Complaint: Ban American Indian Mascots In Schools

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EXETER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: The Exeter Chiefs Mascot during the Amlin Challenge Cup match between Exeter Chiefs and Perpignan at Sandy Park on January 21, 2012 in Exeter, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

EXETER, ENGLAND – JANUARY 21: The Exeter Chiefs Mascot during the Amlin Challenge Cup match between Exeter Chiefs and Perpignan at Sandy Park on January 21, 2012 in Exeter, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

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LANSING (WWJ/AP) - The Chiefs and the Redskins: These are school mascot names that would be a thing of the past if the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has their way.

The department filed a complaint Friday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, asking to ban the use of American Indian mascots and imagery in K-12 school because it denies equal rights to American Indian students.

Supporters say the mascots are a way to celebrate American Indian history and traditions and preserve the group’s culture. But according to the complaint, new evidence suggests the use of the mascots “reinforces stereotypes,” negatively impacting American Indian students’ self-esteem, student learning and achievement.

The complaint cites 35 Michigan schools “responsible for the alleged discrimination.” However, a federal ruling for the Michigan department could have broader reach, spurring a nationwide ban on the use of such mascots and imagery in school districts that receive federal funds.

Daniel Levy, the director of law and policy for MDCR, wrote in the complaint that recent studies now provide a “legal basis” to prohibit the use of American Indian imagery and mascots by proving the mascots cause “actual harm” to American Indian students.

Previously, the only way to make a legal case against the use of the mascots was to prove harassment, Director of Public Affairs for MDCR Leslee Fritz said. The department either had to show bad intention on the part of the school or that the use of the mascot is “universally offensive” – “a difficult thing to do,” she said.

She told WWJ Newsradio 950’s Kathryn Larson Indian imagery creates a hostile learning environment. “The complaint we filed today looks at the research that’s been done lately that clearly establishes that it is no longer about whether or not the mascots are offensive,” Fritz said.

“Now that we know that there is documentable harm done to the student achievement of students in in a specific minority group, it no longer can be allowed under the law, and we’re asking the Department of Education to issue an order saying just that.”

Last year, the Oregon Board of Education banned the use of American Indian mascots in the state, citing the research as “key” in their decision.

Mark Dombroksi, superintendent for the Cheboygan Area School District, said he believes the district has used the “chiefs” mascot since the schools opened in the late 1890s. He said the community is heavily populated by American Indians and called the mascot a “sense of pride to the local community.”

Fritz said the department chose to file the complaint at the federal level “to help every student at one time.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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