The Republican measure requires a petition to trigger a state review of a nickname — a departure from current law, which states a single complaint is enough to prompt an evaluation. It also wipes out all previous state orders for schools to drop race-based mascots.
Walker, a Republican, signed the measure privately Thursday afternoon. He released a statement saying he’s worried current law infringes on free speech. A person’s right to speak doesn’t end just because what they say is offensive, he said. The best approach is to educate people about how some phrases and symbols are offensive when used as nicknames and mascots, he added.
“If the state bans speech that is offensive to some, where does it stop?” Walker wrote. “I personally support moving away from nicknames or mascots that groups of our fellow citizens find seriously offensive, but I also believe it should be done with input and involvement at the local level.”
Barbara Munson, an Oneida Indian who chairs the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s mascots and logos task force, said Walker’s free speech arguments make no sense. Government entities such as schools don’t have free speech rights, she said.
“(The bill) is an example of institutionalized racism in content and process,” Munson said. “It’s a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to all Wisconsin tribes, and it is an act of discrimination leveled directly at our children.”
The bill amends a 2010 state law that required Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction to hold a hearing on a school’s race-based nickname if the agency received a single complaint. The school district had the burden of proving the nickname wasn’t discriminatory. DPI, which is controlled by an elected superintendent, then decided whether the name had to go. So far, DPI has ordered the Osseo-Fairchild School District in western Wisconsin to drop its Chieftains nickname, Berlin High School in northeastern Wisconsin to ditch its Indians moniker and the Mukwonago Area School District outside Milwaukee to drop its Indians nickname.
Mukwonago officials have refused to part with their nickname, however, saying they’ve used it for more than 80 years and it would cost around $100,000 to change it. Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, who represents a portion of Mukwonago, introduced the bill in August to help the district.
The bill invalidates all previous DPI orders forcing schools to drop their nicknames.