WRENTHAM — The Warrior name is safe, at least for now.
Members of the King Philip Regional School Committee met Thursday night, and one of the items on the agenda was discussion of the district’s team sports name — the Warriors.
But district officials said that, while they recognize the issue of Native American mascots is a sensitive one, the safe reopening of the school is their priority in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
To that end, the committee voted to set the date for the return of students to the high school at Sept. 16, in accordance with state guidelines, to allow time for teacher and staff preparation.
The issue of the Warrior name and accompanying iconography hit a nerve among alumni this week after an agenda item for Thursday’s virtual meeting to discuss the matter appeared on the school department website.
Petitions and sometimes angry comments against “changing the name of our school” blew up on alumni Facebook pages and individual Twitter accounts.
However, as Superintendent Paul Zinni pointed out, the item was only placed on the agenda in response to a bill filed last month in the state Legislature that would ban Native American mascots. It would affect King Philip along with other area districts.
King Philip, whose name was chosen for the then-new regional school in the 1950s, led a bloody war against English settlers in the late 17th century that ultimately ended in defeat for the Native peoples.
The Warriors issue has come around on one or more occasion in the past “and people have deep feelings about it,” Zinni said.
And while the safe reopening of schools is the priority, “We don’t want to lose the important because of the urgent.”
But he added, “I don’t think we are expecting to make any kind of recommendations or vote at this point.”
“For my mind we have to deal with the back-to-school issue,” Michael Gee, the board’s chairman, said. But it was important, he thought, “to get folks’ feelings on what we might do” if the Legislature did act to ban Native American names.
Most board members agreed the priority had to be on the reopening of the school and the planning involved.
“I don’t think there’s a movement to ‘destroy’ anything, as far as we are concerned,” board member Erin DeStefano said.
“I don’t want to downplay it, it’s important to have this dialogue, but COVID kind of trumps all,” she said.
Member Jim Killion noted the issue was controversial.
“All it takes is one bad story and before you know it a hornet’s nest has been poked,” he said. “It’s a very emotional time we are living in.”
“We have got to deal with reopening of school,” he added.