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Parents ask state high court to take mascot case (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Two parents asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday to strike down a law that allows the state schools superintendent to order schools to drop American Indian mascots, arguing the statutes are unconstitutional.

The dispute centers on the Mukwonago Area School District’s Indians nickname and logo, which features an Indian man in a headdress. The district, which lies about 30 miles outside Milwaukee, has used the nickname and logo for more than 80 years.

In 2010, though, Democratic passed a law in 2010 that gave the state Department of Public Instruction the authority to force schools to drop race-based nicknames and logos if someone complains about them and the agency determines they’re discriminatory. Months after the law passed an area resident filed a complaint about Mukwonago’s nickname and logo. DPI officials ultimately ordered the district to drop them.

James R. Schoolcraft, the father of a former Mukwonago student, and Craig Vertz, the father of a current Mukwonago student, sued to preserve the nickname and mascot.

They maintain that the law that allowed DPI to force schools to drop the nicknames violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process guarantees. They say the law places a complainant in a better position than district taxpayers who must bear the cost of changing nicknames, and spares some districts with Indian mascots that no one complains about. They also allege that DPI officials are biased decision-makers because they support eradicating all Indian nicknames.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Donald Hassin Jr. ruled in Schoolcraft and Vertz’s favor and preserved the nickname and mascot. But the 2nd District Court of Appeals last month reversed that ruling, concluding the men had no legal standing to sue because they weren’t a party to the original proceedings between DPI and the school district. The appellate court also found the men should have sought judicial review of the DPI’s order before they sued.

The men’s attorney, Samuel Hall, argued in filings with the Supreme Court the men have grounds to sue because they’ll sustain a loss if the district has to change its nickname and logo. State courts have been lenient when deciding taxpayers’ legal standing, he added. He went on to argue Hassin correctly found DPI’s powers were unconstitutional and asked the court to affirm that ruling.

“No rational basis exists to explain the State’s distinction between districts and taxpayers who are subjected to DPI scrutiny like Mukwonago and other districts and their taxpayers who utilize the same exact nickname and similar logos, yet face no such scrutiny,” Hall wrote.

DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper referred questions to the state Justice Department, which is representing the agency in the case. A department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to email and telephone messages seeking comment.

It’s unclear when the Supreme Court might announce whether it has accepted the case. The justices don’t face any deadlines. If the court doesn’t take the case, Mukwonago will have to change its nickname and logo by February 2014.

Mukwonago isn’t the only district the DPI has ordered to change its nickname and mascot in the wake of complaints. The agency also has ordered Osseo-Fairchild to drop its Chieftains nickname and Berlin High School to ditch its Indians moniker. Parents there also have challenged the order in court.

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