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Rail safety organization concerned about Selma Middle School’s ‘Railblazers’ mascot

April 4, 2018 GMT

A state organization committed to rail safety education has voiced concern about the controversial decision to change the mascot at Selma Middle School.

The Johnston County Board of Education voted 5-2 last month to change the mascot at the school from the Vikings to the “Railblazers.”

School officials said the decision is rooted in the school’s participation in the Restart program, which allows low-performing schools to adopt charter school-like flexibility, including extending the school day and using funds in ways not designated by the state.

Deputy Superintendent Eddie Price said the new mascot is an effort to unify the school with the history and culture of Selma.

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Margaret Cannell, executive director of North Carolina Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety education and awareness organization committed to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at rail crossings and preventing trespassing on tracks, said this week that the organization is “extremely concerned about the proposed mascot change.”

Cannell said she fears that the “Railblazers” mascot will encourage more children to explore local railroad tracks without being fully aware of the dangers.

“Creating a friendly ‘Railblazer’ mascot encourages the illusion that tracks are not dangerous and not to be taken seriously,” Cannell said in an email to WRAL News.

According to Cannell, 15 people died while walking on train tracks in North Carolina last year, and eight people have died on train tracks so far this year in the state, including five who were trespassing.

Cannell said that she will be writing to the Johnston County school board, superintendent and the principal of Selma Middle School to request they select a mascot that is not railroad-themed.

“We strongly suggest that increased illegal and potentially dangerous activity might be encouraged with a ‘Railblazer’ mascot and that this be taken into consideration before a final decision is made,” she said.

The “Railblazers” mascot was chosen after a series of surveys, but some have previously voiced concern about the cost of replacement, noting the money could be spent on more important educational needs.

A district spokeswoman last week said the estimated cost to change the mascot would be between $10,000 and $14,000, but school board member Ronald Johnson estimated the cost could be closer to about $50,000 with the need to replace things like uniforms, paint colors and the school website.

Johnson said the money could be better spent on a school resource officer, new computers and new furniture.

District spokeswoman Crystal Roberts said last week that no money has been spent, the board has only approved the mascot change. She also pointed out that any money allocated toward the mascot change would be spent over time, not all at once.