School board member gets punched in the face at meeting regarding ‘Tomahawks’ mascot

Glastonbury, Ct. – 08/31/2020 – Wearing their required masks and sitting socially-distanced, students arrive on campus by bus for the first day of classes at Glastonbury High School. Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com


Christine Dempsey

Hartford Courant

Glastonbury police are investigating a disturbance at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night during which a man punched a board member as tempers flared over whether Glastonbury High School should restore its Native American-themed mascot.

As of early Wednesday, no arrests have been made, Lt. Corey Davis said.

The purpose of the special meeting was to revisit the school board’s summer decision to retire the Tomahawks mascot for Glastonbury High School.

During the meeting, held in the Glastonbury High School auditorium, at least one member of the audience yelled at board members during the public comment period. After the public hearing closed, the board called for a 10 minute recess, during which the same man accosted board member Ray McFall in an aisle of the auditorium, cellphone videos show.

McFall gently pushed him away, to which the man responded by swiftly punching McFall, who fell to the ground. The crowd converged on the two men, separating them. It did not appear that McFall was seriously injured.

As a result of the fracas, the board adjourned without voting on the issue.

“The Board of Education welcomes public comment and appreciates that there will always be passionate testimony when controversial issues are considered,” Glastonbury schools superintendent Alan Bookman said in a statement. “But it is critical that we listen to each other with respect and follow meeting rules so that everyone can be heard.”

The Glastonbury board of education voted in the summer of 2020 to retire the high school’s Tomahawks mascot, citing appropriation of Native American culture. The high school has since adopted a new mascot, the “Glastonbury Guardians,” featuring a student-designed logo.

In recent years, a growing number of schools across the state have transitioned away from using Native American imagery for their sports teams. Last year, the state legislature passed a provision to withhold slot machine revenue from Connecticut’s two tribal casinos from any towns whose schools continue to use Native American mascots. But the issue remains divisive in many towns: in 2020, after dropping the Redmen mascot, the Killingly Board of Education voted to reinstate it.

In Glastonbury, more than 2,500 supporters of the Tomahawks mascot signed a petition asking for an in-person public hearing and for the board to reverse its decision to rename the mascot. Tomahawk supporters say they see the mascot as a “wonderful symbol to respectfully educate students and residents and respectfully celebrate Native American heritage,” according to the petition.

In a statement, board chair Doug Foyle said that in making its decision about the mascot, the board received a wide range of public comment and ultimately “concluded the Tomahawk mascot was not aligned with our district’s goal to promote understanding and respect for all cultures.”

“Instead of uniting our school community, it was dividing it,” Foyle added.

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