Socially-distant forums planned in Oriskany as community input sought over mascot moniker

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ORISKANY — Oriskany Central School plans to host socially-distanced public forums to get the community’s input about a possible mascot and name change for the school district.

During the regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting held online via Zoom Tuesday, Superintendent Timothy J. Gaffney reported that the district was planning at least three separate forums, with a fourth and fifth session to be held if necessary, so that local residents and alumni could “voice their opinions” about the Redskins moniker.

Discussion about planning the forums during the superintendent’s report followed a special meeting held Tuesday, July 21 where talks about the possible mascot and name change were suppose to be addressed. However, Gaffney moved to close the meeting after stating that more discussion was needed with the community first.

Gaffney said the forums would be restricted to 30 attendees in the auditorium to ensure that the district adhered to state pandemic mandates regarding social distancing, which is why multiple sessions are being planned. Later during the meeting, Board of Education members suggested having a sign-up sheet so that everyone who wanted to attend a meeting had the opportunity, rather than one person attending multiple sessions, preventing someone interested from coming to either voice their opinions/concerns or just simply get information.

“We want to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to voice their opinions either for or against,” Gaffney said during his remarks. “We want to make sure” the sessions “are streamlined and articulate, and that they provide an opportunity for everyone to speak — allow everyone in our community to voice their opinions on the mascot and ask questions, or just simply come to listen to what the community has to say.”

The superintendent continued by saying that to ensure the safety of community members, each session would adhere to social distancing guidelines and act like “a forum.” In other words, Gaffney said he’d like the sessions to be held for the purpose of gathering information from local residents, not to form any ideas or express opinions whether there should be a mascot/name change or not by board members or district officials. Board members did volunteer to attend the sessions, and Gaffney said there should be at least “some representation’ of the Board of Education at the forums.

A board member also asked if a link could be set up on the school district website, www.oriskanycsd.org, to make information available in case some residents aren’t able to attend the public sessions. It was requested that the link would also include a place where residents could write in their remarks or questions.

As for the forums, if some “people just want to be there to collect information, that’s fine. But we want to give everyone the opportunity to voice their opinion” who wants to, Gaffney said. “Our role is to be there to listen and then come back and discuss it as a whole board.”

Board members also mentioned researching old school board minutes from “either 1983 or 1993,” where Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter spoke during a meeting, expressing that he “had no problem” with the Redskins name and supported it.

The forums will not be meant to discuss the name, but to just hear public comments for “information gathering purposes,” Gaffney said. A decision would be made at a later date.

A schedule of upcoming forums to be held at the junior/senior high school auditorium:

Community Forum #1: 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5.

Community Forum #2: 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10.

Community Forum #3: 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13.

District residents may sign up to attend a forum via the school district website. Once signed up, residents will receive a confirmation email verifying their attendance. Those unable to attend the forums, but would like to leave feedback or ask questions, may also do so on the district website, www.oriskanycsd.org.

The superintendent said he has received just a few phone calls in the last couple weeks from community members concerning the possible mascot and name change.

“Some people feel it’s a tradition and we need to keep it, and some people feel that maybe it is time to change it, but I have not received a huge influx of calls and people aren’t saying they are strongly feeling one way or another,” he said.

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