mat in gym with logo

Wall mats on both sides of the Lloyd McMillan Gym at Montrose High School pictured on Aug. 26, 2021 prominently display the 'Indians' logo, which needs to be replaced by June 1, 2022 to comply with a new state law banning Native American mascots. The four wall mats in both MHS gyms would cost approximately $6,000 each to replace. 

Montrose County School District is moving forward with the process to select new mascots for Montrose High School and Centennial Middle School, as necessitated by a new state law banning the current Native American mascots.

The replacement mascots will likely be decided on before the Dec. 14 school board meeting, but district spokesperson Matt Jenkins said the full change is not expected to be implemented until the end of the current school year.

An executive committee to oversee the process will consist of both principals — Jim Barnhill of MHS and Joe Simo of Centennial — as well as Superintendent Carrie Stephenson, newly appointed school board member Tom West and Executive Director of Operations Jim Pavlich.

The community input process is based on how the district has solicited broad community feedback in the past, most recently during the superintendent selection process.

Members of the public can apply to join sub-committees for MHS and Centennial, which will convene later this fall at least two times to brainstorm mascot alternatives. The meetings will be guided by structured agendas and action items.

Jenkins said that the subcommittees will include all community stakeholders — such as current students, athletes, coaches, teachers, parents and alumni — to include a wide variety of opinions.

“There’s a lot of different folks that have an opinion about this and I think that’s fantastic,” Jenkins said. “The school mascot is the texture of a community … The people of our school community are the ones that are going to drive this conversation.”

After the subcommittees find a consensus, they will make a recommendation to both principals. Barnhill and Simo will present the prospective mascots at the scheduled Dec. 14 regular businesses meeting of the school board, which will make the final approval on the replacement.

Jenkins said that the infrastructure changes will start at the beginning of 2022 to allow facilities staff enough time to replace mascot-related insignia at both schools without a significant impact on regular operations.

A new law signed into law over the summer bans Native American mascots at public schools in Colorado. Approximately two dozen schools across the state are affected.

Schools that had an agreement with a tribe to retain the mascot prior to June 30, 2021 could be exempt from the requirement. While district and student government representatives had met with tribal leaders of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southern Colorado, no formal agreement was reached.

If schools do not comply with the law, they will need to pay a $25,000 monthly fine. All changes need to be made by June 1, 2022.

The source of funding for the physical changes is still unclear.

An initial estimate put the price tag for both schools at around $900,000 for a complete overhaul of all mascot-related items. The bill text says that districts can apply for BEST grant funding, a competitive program from the state, but mascot-related projects are prioritized lower and the funding would not be received until after the improvements need to be made.

Jenkins affirmed that the district will still apply for a BEST grant — the funding could be applied retroactively — as well as pursuing other possible funding sources.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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