Unlike the drawn-out debate that produced “The Dalles Wahtonka High School” name a decade ago, its return to The Dalles High School was a quick and easy decision.
After a relatively brief discussion where the comments supported the change, the Northern Wasco County School District 21 board voted unanimously Thursday night to restore the old high school name by the 2016-17 school year at the latest.
That is the year that the school, by state mandate, must remove its Native American mascot name, the Eagle Indians.
In a nod to the former Wahtonka High School, the board’s ruling also changes the name of that building to simply the Wahtonka Campus, rather than its unwieldy current official name of The Dalles Wahtonka High School west campus.
The board also voted to convene a work group to help it choose the school’s new mascot, with the option of changing the school colors, which are now crimson and gold.
Staff will flesh out the makeup and parameters on that work group and bring those details back to the school board’s next meeting.
The idea to consider changing the school’s name emerged from a retreat the school board had, where the topic of changing the mascot was discussed.
The Oregon Board of Education voted in 2012 to ban Native American mascots in Oregon schools by 2017, saying they could be considered racially insensitive.
The only student in the audience, 13-year-old Josiah Andersen, of the class of 2019, said he’d like to retain the Eagle Indian mascot name.
Board member Eric Nerdin worried that the change of school name could be delayed til 2017.
Superintendent Candy Armstrong said the change could happen before 2017, just no later than 2017. She noted the switch in 2004 to the new high school name was accomplished gradually, in terms of school uniforms and the like, and so its return would also be gradual.
The name change affects not only school uniforms but any document that bears the school’s name, from letterhead to pamphlets.
Board member Robert Bisonette initially argued for a delay in the decision — once it was initially ready for a vote — to give time for more public input.
He said he hadn’t heard any input one way or another on the name, but he felt the board should do more listening to the public before making a decision.
But board member Carol Roderick said she hadn’t heard anybody object to the idea of returning it to The Dalles High School.
And when she asked students, she said they all told her, “‘We call it The Dalles High School anyway.’”
Audience member Don Hanson said his granddaughter was a student at the school when the issue came up last time, and she was part of a group of students polled on what to call the merged high school. “The vast majority of them wanted The Dalles High School,” he said.
Audience member Rodger Nichols said he hoped that when students came up with a suggested mascot that the board “won’t be dictatorially ripping that away from them.”
Last time, the student-approved new mascot, the Riverhawks, was dumped by the school board after complaints from alumni.
Nichols said that board decision taught students “a very bad lesson.”
Linda Miller said she graduated from Wahtonka High School, but supported returning the school’s name to The Dalles High School.
“The name of the high school in The Dalles is The Dalles High School,” she said.
Miller recounted the quick process, years ago, that resulted in the name, mascot and colors for Wahtonka.
A few suggestions for each were gathered, and put before the students.
“It happened in one afternoon,” she said. “Put on a ballot and all 400 students voted on it. And that’s how we got name, color and mascot. Simple.”
Roderick said she didn’t want the mascot naming process to be “swayed by masses of email petitions by people that live clear across the country. They can always be an Eagle, they can always be an Indian. That’s where they graduated.”
But the current decision should rest with the community and students at the school, she said.
The last naming process produced intense input from graduates from The Dalles and Wahtonka high schools, including email petitions.
Nerdin said he wanted accurate polling done this time about proposed mascot names, to avoid the issues experienced last time, where scientific methods weren’t used, he said.
Nerdin also wanted the students’ decision respected.
“When they come up with something, that’s it.”
The name change a decade ago was made when the former The Dalles School District and Wahtonka School District merged.