SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – A sign at the South Burlington High School football field that reads “once a rebel, always a rebel” is now null and void.

As are the sports uniforms, signs, school newspaper and other items bearing the school’s beloved rebel mascot.

School board members caved to community activists calling for a new name without confederate connotations and voted Feb. 1 to change the school’s mascot to something else. The Register reports the board initially voted to keep the rebel about 15 months ago.

According to the Burlington Free Press:

The board recently reversed its 2015 decision when members opted to keep the name but promised educational actions to follow. Since then, the board said it has heard more voices on the issue, taken a student poll and engaged in a training session on bias.

Students surprised community members in fall 2016 when they said at a school board meeting they felt unsafe discussing how they felt about the Rebel name. Steady pressure from students and parents resulted in Superintendent David Young’s recommendation to the board to change the name with the backing of Principal Patrick Burke. The board’s vote on Feb. 1 was unanimous.

School administration has not backed down from its decision. Interim Principal Pat Phillips said he is working on a plan with Principal Burke, who is on leave as he continues treatment for leukemia. They are preparing details for the name change which will involve input from students, parents and alumni.

The decision isn’t going over well with many locals.

Two Facebook pages sprouted to rally against the name change, one that amassed more than 1,500 members overnight.

“South Burlington Rebels have always been a family. When you were young you always wanted to be a Rebel just like your brother or father. Everyone looked out for each other. We weren’t concerned about race or ethnicity we were just … us,” Corey Mansfield, who graduated as a Rebel in 1996, wrote in a Facebook message.

Others created a petition titled “Rename SBHS to The South Burlington Snowflakes” to mock the school district:

Firstly, we applaud the residents of South Burlington, as well as the South Burlington School Board, for their courageous decision to change the racist and offensive Rebel mascot.  We believe that the fight for social justice and equality is forever ongoing, and the changing of this ridiculous and hideous name is a huge step towards achieving our goal.  In fact, this monumental decision by the school board will go down in history as a great moment in the history of South Burlington. It is at this time that we, the residents of South Burlington, would like to loudly declare our desire to replace the rebel mascot with the Snowflake.

Just as mother earth wraps the city of South Burlington every year in her warm, encompassing embrace and covers the community in its entirety, the Snowflake will include and welcome all students in SBHS regardless of your racial background, nationality, religion, economic background, political preference, sexual orientation, gender identity or preferred pronouns.

Just like the Snowflake, every South Burlington student is unique and beautiful.  Growing up as a proud snowflake, our students will develop a strong sense of their own entitlement to success and just how special they truly are. Gone will be the days of our children feeling that they have been left behind by society, because as a snowflake they will always know that they are deserving of our care and protection.

We believe that the South Burlington Snowflakes will be an outstanding new mascot name for the community, fostering inclusive atmospheres and preparing our students for their lives beyond the walls of SBHS. 

Meanwhile, media coverage of the change quotes heavily from folks who support the decision. The Register also launched a meaningless online poll that showed the 28 people who read its story support the school board.

“When I found out that our mascot is supposed to represent a confederate soldier, I was appalled,” SBHS junior Eva Rawlings told the news site. “Though I have never been personally affected by racial discrimination since I am not a person of color, even I felt uncomfortable chanting it at games, knowing what the confederacy stood for.”

U.S. News and World Report ranks South Burlington High School number three in the state, and reports that about 15 percent of its roughly 850 students are minorities.

One of the few, Isaiah Hines, is a student representative on the South Burlington school board and the self-appointed spokesman for those who provoked the name change.

“ … I’ve become a sort of spokesperson for all those in favor of changing the name,” he told The Register. “Also because I am black, this name and what it symbolizes has a particular significance to me personally.”

And the Rebel’s implied racism is just too much for a black student to handle, he said.

“I have been constantly asked to just … overlook the issue. I have been told to ignore the links to the confederacy and focus on the alternate meanings the name has taken on,” he said. “I feel that it’s just unfair for people to ask me, as a black student, to overlook the Rebel name’s clear connections to an anti-black, pro-slavery, racist group.”

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