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Southern school board makes controversial changes to high school traditions

When it comes to Southern living, there are three important elements: faith, family and football. One Arkansas school board is making headlines for changes to a local high school’s tradition that some say is not necessary.

Racial insensitivity or political correctness? Many find themselves divided upon hearing news that the Fort Smith School Board plans to make significant changes to Southside High School. This decision passed in a unanimous vote after members of the board heard about public uproar regarding the Confederate flag — along with the recent mass shooting in Charleston.

“It came to our attention that the public has been pretty upset about the Confederate flag, which has already been removed, the rebel mascot [and] the playing of the ‘Dixie,'” school board member Susan McFerran told 5 News.

The school board recently issued the following statement:

“Giving great consideration to the continuing impact of perceived symbols of racism on the community, state and nation, the Fort Smith Public School Board convened as a Committee of the Whole tonight and passed a motion to discontinue the use of “Dixie” as the Southside High School fight song in the 2015-2016 school year, and to phase out the use of the Rebel as the Southside mascot in the 2016-2017 school year.

“This motion passed with a 6-0 vote and will be presented to the Board during the regularly scheduled meeting on July 27, 2015. The Rebel and ‘Dixie’ have been used as the Southside High School mascot and fight song since the school opened more than 50 years ago. The Board understands the challenges of changing what has come to be the tradition of the Southside High School community, and will work with the student body and staff over the next year to name a new mascot and fight song for the school.”

The school’s fight song “Dixie” or “Dixie’s Land” is a highly popular tune throughout the South — and pretty recognizable across the country. Written by Daniel Decatur Emmett, a northern songwriter and founder of the Virginia Minstrels Troupe (often performed in blackface), the song was heavily played among Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Even President Lincoln enjoyed the song and wanted to reclaim it as an American favorite.

Even with the song’s significant roots in our nation’s history, the school board no longer thinks it’s an appropriate song for the high school. It also has plans to feature a more up-to-date and inclusive mascot that will represent students at Southside High.

While some believe the time has come to part ways with touchy history, others just don’t see the big deal in keeping it around. There’s even a petition on to keep the mascot and fight song.

Since news broke about the school board’s decision, many have taken to social media to sound off on their feelings. The 5 News Facebook page has become an epicenter of discussion, with people for and against the vote.

“You are opening Pandora’s box!” writes Jo. “The blame will be completely on this school board. Fools!”

“Makes sense to me,” notes Kyler. “Racism needs to die. Our past was exactly that, our past.”

“The kids should stand together and refuse to play, NO REBEL MASCOT, NO FIGHT SONG,NO SPORTS,” adds Bodie.

Southside principal Wayne Haver is not pleased with the Fort Smith School Board decision and how it handled the matter. “I’m disappointed the school board didn’t even let me know this was a possibility,” Haver revealed to 40/29 News.

With the final vote scheduled for July 27, only time will tell how public opinion will sway the outcome.

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