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Meeting on controversial mascot causing stir in Paw Paw

School official to hold community-only meeting about redskins mascot, alum says it should be open to everyone
Posted at 8:17 PM, Feb 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-28 20:25:47-05

PAW PAW, Mich. — A few years ago when the question about whether or not Paw Paw Public Schools should keep the redskins as their mascot was debated, Rick Reo was just a community member, he said.

Reo remembers the intensity of the debate, he said. Many people were for it. Many others were against it. At the time, Reo supported it, he said.

However, since becoming a principal and then superintendent of PPPS, Reo’s changed his mind, he said.

“I think that has created a lot of division in our school,” Reo said during a phone interview with FOX 17 on Tuesday February 25. “I’m not saying that this impacts all of our students. But some of our students, I think, as this debate goes on, that it creates somewhat of an unwelcoming environment.”

So, Reo’s thinking of retiring it, he said. He wants to present his proposal to the school board at their next meeting in March. However, Reo wants to hear from the community first, he said.

“This is something we need to look at internally, you know, how is this impacting our kids,” Reo said. “I don’t want this being another debate. So much of the one they had three years ago where we had a lot of folks outside the community and I think that kind of muddied the waters.”

Reo said he scheduled a meeting for Tuesday March 3 at 6:30 p.m. and he has not revealed the location yet. However he invited school staff, parents, students, and Paw Paw residents to attend. And, they all must RSVP to attend.

“Our school board is not going to be there. Only our board president [will attend]. So this is my meeting as a superintendent. Our board has not acted,” Reo said. “So this is about me bringing that recommendation to the board, giving folks the opportunity to ask me questions and hear my reasoning.”

Reo wrote about his decision and the reasons why in the school's newspaper.

Ryan Gilbert read Reo's article. He said that it was well written, he 'brought up great points' and that he considers Reo, whom he’s known for years, to be a ‘great man.’

However, Gilbert has some concerns.

“I know he’s dealing with a difficult topic but the format of the meeting is my biggest issue,” said Gilbert who is an alum of Paw Paw Public Schools. “I think they found a loophole in the Open Meetings Act and I don’t think the perception it’s portraying to the community is a positive one.”

Gilbert said he’s heard from several people that they are skeptical of the meeting. He feels that it should be open to the public and recorded.

“I think we shouldn’t have to RSVP to speak to our elected officials. That’s not American democracy right there in my opinion,” Gilbert said during an interview with FOX 17 on Friday. “I also think that not allowing people to view, record or live stream is a huge infringement on the First Amendment.”

Gilbert said what he’d like to see is the Native American tribes represented at the meetings. And, that the meetings be handled civilly. He studies politics at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and believes transparency in the meeting would be best.

“I’m involved in politics and one of my biggest issues is backdoor deals and closed meetings. And I don’t like that,” Gilbert said. “I think open and honest communication is the best thing. You get more bees with honey than you do vinegar.”