School board approves change after parent complaints and community discussion

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Cameron Vaughan, left, of Portland Public Schools, explains the process used to solicit student and community feedback for a new mascot at Franklin High School during a school board meeting June 11. Pictured to the right: Franklin Principal Chris Frazier and student Flora Pollack.Franklin High School has a new mascot, following a unanimous vote from the school board Tuesday, June 11. The southeast Portland high school will no longer be the Quakers, and instead will be Lightning.

The mascot change came after complaints from parents over the school's use of a religious organization to represent the public school.

Those parents asserted that using an organized religion to represent the school was "inappropriate, offensive and unconstitutional," district leaders said.

Following the complaints, Portland Public Schools changed its policy to prohibit schools from using mascots that are religious in nature. That paved the way for Tuesday's decision, which came after extensive community outreach and input, said Franklin's Principal, Chris Frazier. Ultimately, they found a name that paid homage to the school's namesake. PPS PHOTO - A Quaker mascot, shown here at a Franklin High School event in 2018, will soon be replaced, following a vote by the Portland Public Schools board.

"We looked at things that resonated with Benjamin Franklin, or our school specifically," Frazier told the school board. "We also looked for something that was gender-neutral and non-offensive."

The name refers to Franklin's 1752 experiment, when he showcased how lightning contained electricity by flying a kite during a thunderstorm and allowing the kite to be struck by lightning.

Other mascot names considered included the Turkeys, the Benjamins, Sasquatch, Meerkats and other lightning-related names. In the end, Lightning was agreed upon without dissension, PPS staff noted.

"Within these meetings, respectful debate was had on different names," Franklin student and ASB president Flora Pollack said.

"Sitting here tonight, I am cognizant of the historic decision I have been able to be a part of. Knowing that this mascot will live on much longer than my time at Franklin High School, representing my neighborhood in Southeast Portland, it is a truly gratifying feeling."

School district administrators acknowledged that changing the mascot was "a sensitive issue."

"I want to recognize the persistence of some people in the Franklin community, who about five years ago, thought it was time to make an important change at Franklin, but also knowing it wouldn't be an easy change," PPS school board member Julia Brim-Edwards said Tuesday. "Some things that people hold dear can be deeply offensive and hurtful to others."

Renaming the school will require updates to the school's scoreboard. Wall wrestling mats in the gymnasium will need to be rebranded and a portion of the floor in the cafeteria depicting the old mascot will need to be removed, school district documents indicate. The district has until summer 2020 to swap out the old mascot branding.

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