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RCPS settles with FSU over school logos

Special Images
 Salem High School will have to change its logo, left, because of a settlement with Florida State University over the similarity to FSU’s logo, right. 

Special Images Salem High School will have to change its logo, left, because of a settlement with Florida State University over the similarity to FSU’s logo, right. 

CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools will have to replace athletic and band apparel, wall and floor paintings and school stationery at Salem High School and Memorial Middle School after a settlement with Florida State University for alleged violation of trademark rights.

In August, the Collegiate Licensing Company contacted Salem High School on behalf of the University to express its concern of the school's use of the word "Seminole" and the school's Seminole head and spear logo.

"I find it appalling that a university would go after a school system for this, especially in these economic times, when we can't stand up and fight," school board member Darlene Hotchkiss said. "If we had the money, there's part of me that would fight this to the end."

Salem High School opened in 1991 and Memorial Middle School opened in 1993, and they have used the same wording and the same or similar logos since opening. Originally, SHS used a different logo and at some point over the years switched to the current logo with an Indian head and spear, according to Cindy Ball, director of Community Relations at RCPS.

The Rockdale County Board of Education approved a settlement and license agreement with FSU after executive session at its monthly school board meeting on Thursday. Hotchkiss and Vice Chairwoman Jean Yontz voted against the agreement.

"I cannot believe FSU thinks Salem High School is a threat to them monetarily," Yontz said Friday. "What about all of the other high schools in America?"

Yontz noted that her grandson plays for the Kansas City Royals little league baseball team, and Hotchkiss noted that many schools in Georgia use the bulldog as their logo, including Rockdale County High School, not to mention schools all over the United States are named after professional and college sports teams.

"You would think they would be honored and proud to have their name associated with it," Yontz said. "I think it's very small on their part."

School board Chairman Wales Barksdale said spending money on further litigation wouldn't be beneficial to the school system.

"It's their marks, and they have them," he said. "I don't necessarily agree with it, but I don't see spending the money for it. ... We worked out an agreement where we have time to change things."

According to the agreement, which school board attorney Jack Lance has reviewed, Salem High and Memorial Middle must discontinue their existing use of the Seminole head design mark, the lady Seminole head design mark, the spear design mark and the words "Seminoles" and "Noles" unless it is with the school's name.

Salem has 30 days to remove the items from its website and publications. It has until Aug. 1, 2011, to remove them from the football helmets; until Aug. 1, 2016, to remove them from the campus walls and floors and from all athletic uniforms; until Aug. 1, 2019 to remove them from all band uniforms; and until Aug. 1, 2012, to remove them from baseball caps. They can use their stationery until it's exhausted.

At Memorial Middle School, it only has to remove the items from its website and publications within 30 days and from its school crest by Aug. 1, 2014. It, too, can use stationery with the items until its exhausted.

FSU wants to avoid any potential for confusion, according to the agreement.

"This is very costly to us," Hotchkiss said. "The budget is extremely tight as it is right now. ... It's a true slap in the face to public education."

Ball said if RCPS had to make all of the requested changes within 30 days, it would have cost an estimated $50,000. However, Lance worked it out for the agreement to be nominal costs to the school system over a period of time — decals on the helmets will be replaced when they are refurbished each summer and varsity sports uniforms are replaced every three years.

Lance said it could cost RCPS about $250,000 to defend a federal lawsuit.