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DALLAS – The Dallas School District will research the history of its high school mascot, the Dallas Dragons, after receiving letters from people expressing concern about its possible connection to the Ku Klux Klan.

Leaders in the KKK are called “grand dragons.”

The district received three letters asking for the Dallas High School mascot to be changed in response to protests against racism and the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.

“In light of recent events, I have grown sick to my stomach with the fact that the Dallas High School mascot is the Dragons. As I am sure you know and are keenly aware, the Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragons is the name given to men who held positions of power in the organization,” wrote Olivia Holloway, of Salem, one of the three who wrote letters to the Dallas school board and Interim Superintendent Andy Bellando. “I am calling on you to change your school mascot before next fall, and to make a public apology for any hurt that the name has caused students, Dallas citizens, or anyone else who has come into contact with it. This is a change that should have been made decades ago, and while you can’t change the past, you can create a more inclusive and aware future.”

Lindsay White, who grew up in Salem and attended Western Oregon University in Monmouth, also wrote to the board.

“When my husband, who is African American, had a job opportunity come up in Dallas, we had a very long conversation about if the town would accept him because of the town’s deep history with the KKK,” White wrote. “We can still see the roots of hatred for people of color represented in the high school’s mascot. Whether or not its original intent was to be a symbol of racism toward people of color and different religions at its inception, the impact has invoked fear of belonging for my husband and many other who look like him.”

Board Chairman Michael Blanchard summarized the letters during the board’s meeting Monday night and asked if the board should conduct research on how the mascot was selected.

“I don’t think it’s an inappropriate question for us to ask ourselves. I do think that actual history is important and that is something we should look at first. I think our first step would be to look at what the actual history is, the dragon mascot, in relation to the Klan,” Blanchard said. “I think we also need to examine is it being used and how is it being used in ways that are inappropriate.”

Blanchard said the board should have a discussion about the mascot with the community.

“ I think it can be very emotional,” he said. “I think there will be some very strong feelings on both sides of this issue.”

The other four members of the board agreed that research and discussions need to happen.

Board member Jon Woods said talk is already happening in the community and on social media sites. He doesn’t believe that the high school’s mascot is connected with the KKK.

“I don’t think It’s too early to talk about what we need to talk about in our schools — with our students, with our administrators, with our teachers – to talk about what we can do better,” Woods said. “Regardless of what the mascot is, I don’t think we should put that off at all. Anywhere, anybody in our school district can start talking about this, and as a small, mostly white community, what we can do better.”

Board member Mike Bollman said he lived next door to one of the members of the student committee that picked the Dragon as the mascot.

“I think there is a lot of different myths of how and where it came about,” he said. “I think we need to get more information, get the facts and have some thoughtful discussions. I’m very much in favor of that.”

Board member Matt Posey said he believes the intention behind the selection of the Dragon was to pick a stronger mascot than the previous one, the Prune Pickers, a nod to area’s history of growing prunes.

“They didn’t think the Prune Pickers sounded very tough,” Posey said.

Posey attended Dallas schools starting his sixth-grade year through high school and never remembered hearing that the mascot was connected to the KKK.

“I think it’s probably to the stage where we should do what we need to do to get some solid facts behind that, some documentation about that,” he said.

Board member Dave Hunt said he believes that problem is one of perception.

“When I look at this issue, what I’m recognizing is what we really need to have a discussion about is how do we change (the perception of) people who aren’t from this town that is how we roll and who we are,” he said. “I’m not convinced that if we change our mascot it would change that perception. It might send a little bit of a message, but I think there is a lot more at play here than our high school mascot. That’s a bigger discussion.”

Blanchard said the topic will be revisited at the board’s meeting on June 22.

“I think what I know where we can do better is educating our kids about the good, the bad and the ugly in our history and why that is not who we are now and how we can be better,” Blanchard said. “This isn’t something where we should leave open space for people to draw in what they want to convey. We need to write our story and be honest about it.”

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