Fort Smith school told to drop Rebel mascot and fight song

FORT SMITH, Ark. — The Fort Smith School Board voted Monday unanimously to ban Southside High School’s mascot and fight song.

In a seven to zero vote, the fight song “Dixie” will be banned for the 2015-2016 school year.

“In the next few days we will be making a selection of a new fight song,” said Fort Smith School District Superintendent Dr. Benny Gooden. “At least one fight song, and we may have others down the way.”

The mascot, known as Johnny Reb, will be replaced for the 2016-2017 school year.

“The new mascot will be decided by a committee that consists of alumni, students, also some members of the business community,” Fort Smith School Board President Deanie Mehl to KFSM-TV. “This is not something the [school] board will decide.”

Getting rid of Johnny Reb means making changes to Southside High School uniforms, which will cost about $200,000.

More than 200 people showed up to voice their opinion.

The school board is facing a lawsuit over a committee meeting it held on June 23 when members voted to recommend the changes.

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen filed the lawsuit claiming the school board violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by holding a committee vote without notifying the public.

“The school board did not say one word about why they were for or against, and that is concerning, so I think we, the voters, need to come out,” McCutchen said Monday. “We need to get a school board who will engage us in the process because that’s what our government stands for.”

Mehl said the school board did not violate any portion of the Freedom of Information Act.

Melissa Woodall was ecstatic about the board’s decision.

“If you’re from here, we know that most of us don’t hold hate in our hearts, and we do not mean anything negative by the Southside symbols. But not everybody, everywhere understands that part of our community,” Woodall said. “A different mascot would better represent our community.”

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