KIRKLAND — Students at Juanita High School will vote on whether to change their school’s mascot and logo following a petition’s approval by the school district’s board of directors.
The school is represented by the “Rebels” mascot with a logo showing an eagle sitting on a shield in front of crossed swords. Previous iterations of the logo, including the 1990 yearbook, feature a “stars and bars” style background. The design is widely associated with various iterations of the Confederate flag during the American Civil War that has been criticized as a symbol of hate and racism.
The petition was presented to the Lake Washington School District board of directors at its May 21 meeting, during which the board approved the petition. Board members noted that when the current mascot was proposed and approved by the JHS student body in 1971, it was meant to represent the “revolutionary” approach to education at the school, which included short class periods. However, board members unanimously supported the petition moving forward, saying it was the students’ right to change a mascot.
“Meanings drift with time and I don’t think that ‘Rebel’ was as associated with the Civil War at the time as it is now,” said board member Chris Carlson.
In order for a petition to make it to the board it has to garner signatures of support from more than 10 percent of a school’s student body. JHS had 1,443 students enrolled at the beginning of the current school year, placing the 170 gathered signatures well above the needed threshold.
A change.org petition was started in support of the student initiative, which has gained around 700 signatures.
“The Juanita High School (Kirkland, Washington) mascot is the ‘Rebel’ and (its) current logo is slightly modified iteration of the Confederate flag. We feel that there is no place for the memorializing of Confederate white supremacy at Juanita High School. Other schools across the nation have made the decision to change their ‘Rebel’ mascot in light of (its) historical connotations and by signing this, we believe that it is time for Juanita High School to do the same,” the petition reads. “By signing this petition, we call on Lake Washington School District, Juanita High School leadership, and the JHS PTSA to take immediate action to remove the ‘Rebels’ as the Juanita High School’s mascot and begin the process of disrupting white supremacy in the Juanita High School community.”
A counter petition was also started and has gained more than 1,000 signatures. It says that few people who attended JHS want to see the mascot changed and that “there is no white supremacy in the Juanita High surrounding areas.”
According to a document provided by the school district, a black staff member objected to the 1990 yearbook cover, which was subsequently changed. The document also stated that in the mid-1990s JHS hosted Garfield High School for a varsity football game. During that game, Juanita students painted their faces with the “stars and bars” and chanted racist names and slurs. The assistant student body president later apologized for the event.
“Historically, pro-Confederate terms include ‘Rebel Pride,’ ‘Undefeated Rebels,’ and ‘The Rebel Yell.’ These are terms that JHS uses today,” the document reads.
Additionally, a picture included from the 1986 yearbook shows a photo of students holding a Confederate flag with the title “In 1986, Juanita High School is riding a rebel wave.”
Only current students can vote to change or retain a mascot. Following the board of directors’ approval, the petition will now go before the student body, who will vote to either change the mascot or keep it as it is.
Other schools around the country have moved to change mascots associated or perceived to be associated with the American Confederacy, which during the Civil War, fought against the Union to keep black people as slaves.
This story was first published in the Kirkland Reporter.