Student survey says ‘Ditch Rebel mascot’

Hays Free Press Staff

When the Hays CISD sent out a survey about changing Hays High’s mascot, it was seeking guidance from students, teachers and staff who would be affected.

They responded — resoundingly.

Almost 60 percent of students and more than 70 percent of teachers and staff were in favor of a change — continuing a process that began two decades ago of divorcing the school district from Confederate imagery.

Specifically, the district said that one in four students were “very uncomfortable” with the mascot, while 30 percent of teachers and staff felt that way.

The 2,325 surveys were sent to students who would be in grades 9-12 at Hays High School for the 2020-2021 school year as well as to 275 teachers and staff. The district received 1,152 student responses and 146 from teachers and staff.

Aside from that survey, the district also credited an online petition urging a change that had gathered 1,400 signatures as of July 2.

“When more than a quarter of the students, and nearly a third of the teachers and staff members, are very uncomfortable with the current mascot, that mascot fails in its objectives,” the district said Monday in a statement. “When a mascot mires the school in political controversy and pits students, families and community members against each other, it is time to change.”

Established in 1968, Hays CISD stopped using the Confederate flag as an official symbol for Hays High School in 2000; in 2012 it banned that flag from being displayed on school property. Three years later, Hays High stopped using “Dixie” as its fight song. Because of that previous association, the district now says, “it would be impossible to rebrand the Hays High School Rebels and completely sever the mascot’s connection to Confederate imagery that is hurtful and hateful to many.”

District administration has said that before presenting a possible mascot change to the Board of Trustees, a new mascot will have to be recommended. Students who responded to the survey were also asked about their ideas for a replacement mascot that is not being used by other schools in the district. The top choices were: Hawks, Hornets, Patriots, Cowboys, Eagles, Hurricanes, Hyenas, Phoenixes, Lions, Mavericks, Wildcats, Dragons and Honey Badgers.

Students will be asked to choose from that list, receiving choice selection sheets beginning this week. Those sheets will be presented to trustees, should they vote to change the mascot.

That could happen as early as later this month. If so, “the district will help Hays High School make the transition to the new mascot based on a workable timeline” that will be developed once the decision is made. As part of preparing for a possible change, the district will begin an inventory, “with associated costs, of items that would need to be changed,” like sports and band uniforms and signage.

The district stressed that any decision to change the mascot “is not intended to erase campus history or cast any judgment on past supporters of the Hays High School Rebels.”

The district also said that, in a summer dominated by how to cope with COVID-19, a mascot change was not on anyone’s radar. “However, the call for a mascot change, this time in the wake of the current events in the country, is not sudden, nor unexpected. It is, in fact, a debate that has been occurring in Hays CISD for more than 20 years.”

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