Fight over Native American mascots at West Hartford high schools ends as board of education lawsuit dismissed – Hartford Courant

Hartford – Attorney Scott Zweig took a disappointed but defiant tone when commenting on the dismissal of the lawsuit he and Mary McGowan filed seeking to overturn the West Hartford Board of Education’s decision to change the mascots of the two public high schools in the city.

Superior Court Judge James Sicilian on Monday dismissed the suit for want of jurisdiction because Zweig and McGowan lacked standing, meaning they essentially did not have enough alleged harm in the eyes of the law. .

“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and are currently evaluating our options,” Zweig said in a statement, adding that the court has not responded to actual claims he and McGowan have made. “The court’s finding that we do not have standing to sue does not mean that the Board of Education acted lawfully during its hasty and pre-determined campaign to erase the Warrior and Chieftain names from our schools. Unfortunately, residents of West Hartford will not have the chance to have the council’s misconduct reviewed in court. Instead, the decision may embolden the board to continue ignoring its own written policies and the interests of its constituents.

In February, the school board voted to retire Hall and Conard’s current mascots — the Warriors and Chieftains, respectively — at the end of the school year. In early June, the school board voted to adopt new mascots, the Conard Red Wolves and the Hall Titans.

For years, mascots have come under scrutiny for whether they were culturally insensitive. Logos that included Native American imagery at both schools were removed in 2015, although the names were allowed to continue until the February vote.

Zweig and McGowan filed a motion for a temporary injunction ahead of the June school board meeting in a last-ditch effort to stop the adoption of new mascots. Zweig and McGowan claimed, among other things, that the council violated “policy, law and due process” when it voted to end the use of mascots.

The court denied the motion and continued with the lawsuit as the schools continued with their name and logo change plans.

After a hearing and briefs submitted to the court over the summer, Sicilian issued its decision dismissing the case, saying Zweig and McGowan lacked ‘classic punishment’, ‘taxpayer status’ and ‘fair status’. .

“The plaintiffs’ allegations are no more than claims of an interest in having a legally and otherwise properly functioning City Board of Education,” Sicilian wrote of Zweig and McGowan’s classic grievance. “This interest does not distinguish complainants from the community as a whole.

In a footnote, Sicilian said Zweig and McGowan – although they listed what they said were nine distinguishing characteristics, including residing in West Hartford, having participated in high school sports as Warriors and having children who attend or graduate from city high schools – did not possess characteristics that were unique or significantly limited them in the classroom.

“Plaintiffs argue, but offer no evidence to demonstrate, that the combination of these widely held characteristics makes them unique, or at least materially distinct, from members of the community as a whole,” Sicilian said.

Sicilian also said Zweig and McGowan do not have taxpayer status, which gives them harm if a public entity’s decision causes them financial harm.

“There is no allegation in the complaint that the impugned conduct of the board of directors directly or indirectly increased the plaintiffs’ taxes,” Sicilian said. “The complaint contains less than a handful of allegations that relate at all to city finances. … Plaintiffs have neither alleged nor demonstrated that the impugned action of the board will result in an increase in their taxes.

Finally, Sicilian denied that Zweig and McGowan had equitable status, which would have required the court to form an exception to the traditional requirements of status.

“[T]his case does not represent any circumstances that make it special or unusual in a way that would justify ignoring the taxpayer standing standards that our Supreme Court “has consistently articulated since at least 1943,” Sicilian wrote.

The case was argued on behalf of the city by James Healy of Cowdery & Murphy.

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While Zweig said he was weighing his options regarding the decision, company attorney Dallas Dodge said in a statement that he hoped that was the end of the matter.

“I can certainly respect differences of opinion on education policy, but litigation is not the answer to what is fundamentally political disagreement,” Dodge said. “The Superior Court’s decision confirms that Attorney Zweig has failed to establish even the most basic elements of standing, and we hope he will eventually drop his baseless legal claims as well as his ridiculous claim that the city pay the costs of its own trial.

West Hartford School Board President Dr. Lorna Thomas-Farquharson also released a statement, supporting the board’s decision to change high school mascots.

“The board’s decision to remove Native American team names is consistent with our goal of creating an equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students,” Thomas-Farquharson said. “This issue has been the subject of extensive and often contentious debate. We look forward to continuing to serve the youth and families of our community.

Zweig, for his part, was impassive.

“Despite the dismissal, the board is not above the law,” he said. “The purpose of this trial was to hold the council accountable for its actions. While they may have escaped judicial oversight this time, we let it be known that the people of West Hartford have a voice that won’t be ignored. We remain of the view that the Board acted improperly throughout the process and that its decision on this matter is invalid and not representative of the views of the community.

“The board’s decision was never about education (see King Phillip Middle School, named after a Native American tribal chief). The council simply used this as an opportunity to impose their personal agendas on West Hartford residents without due process.

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