Two topics of discussion that surfaced during this year’s Manhattan-Ogden school board election are the Manhattan High School mascot and nonpartisanship in the election.

Local chapters of both the Democrat and Republican parties have endorsed some candidates in the USD 383 race, while the debate about the Indian mascot at MHS continues as more schools and sports teams step away from using Native American imagery.

The Mercury asked the six school board candidates for their thoughts on these issues. Their answers are listed in alphabetical order.

1. The school board race is nonpartisan. Have you accepted help from any political party? Why or why not?

Karla Hagemeister, board incumbent: This summer the Riley County Democrats distributed a door hanger and a postcard of support, and I was an invited speaker to their picnic. After the primary, I asked that they refrain from any other involvement in my campaign. I appreciate the support of community members from both parties and people who are not politically active. A board member represents all members of the community for the interest of our children, not any political party.

Betty Mattingly-Ebert, owner of Paradoxx Designs in Manhattan: I’m grateful to have had support from members of both political parties, and unaffiliated voters. What they have in common is the hope that the new board will place a stronger focus on the specific goals of a public education rather than try to implement a specific political ideology in our classrooms.

Jayme Morris-Hardeman, Thrive! Flint Hills executive director: During the primary, the Democratic party included my information on a postcard and a door hanger they produced. I also spoke at their picnic. Following the primary I asked them to no longer be involved with my campaign. I have volunteers and supporters from both political parties as well as those who are unaffiliated.

Teresa Parks, career transition readiness specialist for Flint Hills Job Corps in Manhattan: I think that our children’s education is not a partisan issue at all. I have made sure to speak with voters on all sides of the party lines and asked to not have any party’s endorsement. I appreciate individuals who supported, but I didn’t want to be affiliated with any party in this race.

Steven Ruzzin, data engineer: I’ve received one donation from a Christian organization. All other donations are from individuals. I’ve been endorsed by Kansans for Life and the Riley County Republican Party. Every candidate in this race is supported and/or endorsed by a political organization. It’s not about partisanship, but worldviews. Candidates attract those who agree with what they stand for.

Christine Weixelman, registered nurse: I’ve had help from people who belong to both political parties, as well as unaffiliated voters. One of the reasons I decided to run was because of the board’s attempt to implement a critical race theory-based training for teachers. The claims and aims of critical race theory are political, which is why some members are passionate about pushing it. I oppose that kind of political coercion in schools, as many people do.

2. What are your feelings on the Manhattan High School Indian mascot? How do you think the district should address concerns about the mascot being harmful to Native American representation locally?

Hagemeister: It is time to respectfully retire the Indian image. The responsibility to address representation of Indigenous people goes beyond USD 383 and should be shared by the community. The district should ensure that Indigenous cultures, histories, and present day challenges are substantive, accurate, and visible in curriculum at all grade levels. The community should embrace the opportunity to learn more about the people here before us, starting by expanding KSU’s events surrounding Indigenous Peoples Day to a regional effort.

Mattingly-Ebert: I have spoken with several Native American community members to better understand their perspectives. The Manhattan High Indian is an image, not a mascot, and I am in favor of keeping it. The image is honoring Frank Prentup, a Tuscaroran Iroquois born in Kansas, a K-State graduate and a U.S. Navy veteran who was a respected MHS educator and coach. This history should be used as an educational tool for Manhattan and Kansas history.

Morris-Hardeman: As an advocate for JEDI (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion), I believe it is time to change the high school mascot. The American Psychological Association has stated research shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, not only on Native American students, but on all students and communities. Change is hard, but in this case, it is necessary.

Parks: I think that the mascot issue is one that boils down to simple human decency. The district should be willing to acknowledge and respect the ancestral history of the lands we currently occupy without making a caricature of its people. There are other ways to honor our coach.

Ruzzin: Everything I’ve researched tells me the actual Manhattan community is extremely supportive of the rich and honorable history of the Indian image. Rhetoric opposing the image seems to come from non-local, politically driven sources. I believe the people can see through that rhetoric and understand how little inclusivity exists in their worldview. I will fight to maintain the honor and respect of the image, and the history of why and how it came to be.

Weixelman: At this point, it has become clear that the “concerns” are being driven primarily by a small set of political activists rather than our local Native American community members, most of who consider the image an honor to Brent Yancey (the man who drew the image MHS uses). I am for retaining the image, but I would be willing to rename the high school to Frank Prentup High School and expand Kansas and Manhattan history with regards to Native American culture. I think our community is ready for this cooperative type of resolution. (Editor’s note: Prentup was a coach at MHS nicknamed “Chief.” Some people say he was the inspiration for the local Indian mascot.)