By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — There will be no decision on a new logo for Wakefield Memorial High School until at least the fall, as the School Committee last night punted the decision into the next school year.
The school board was scheduled to vote on a new logo at its June 14 meeting, but that vote was postponed to last night in order to allow time for a student survey and to investigate possible copyright issues with one of the three finalists, a logo design that resembles the Ohio State University logo.
But in an email sent to the School Committee early yesterday afternoon, School Committee Chairman Thomas Markham informed members that “The matter will be tabled at tonight’s meeting.”
At the June 14 School Committee meeting, both Superintendent Doug Lyons and WMHS Principal Amy McLeod indicated that it would be feasible to conduct a student survey of grades 8-11 to determine logo preferences before the end of the school year. But as Markham explained in his email, things have since changed.
“After beginning to plan a student survey across these four grades in two buildings, the Administration thought it prudent, and I agreed, to hold off on the student survey due to the legitimate challenge in designing, reviewing, implementing and collecting the survey data at the very end of the school year,” Markham wrote. “There are/were many end-of-year activities, including finals, that needed to take precedent. So, no student survey was conducted in the past two weeks and such a survey will be moved to the fall.”
Markham also reported on the copyright investigation regarding the “temporary” logo that has been in use since well before the formal move to eliminate the traditional Warrior logo began in 2020. That “temporary” logo is one that many recognize as similar in design to the Ohio State University logo. It is also one of the three finalists chosen by the Logo Committee.
“Dr. Lyons asked our legal counsel, Atty. Sarah Spatafore of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, to research the question of possible copyright infringement if we were to decide to endorse the current temporary logo as the new logo,” Markham said in his email to the School Committee. “Legal counsel did so and provided us back with a memo.” That memorandum was attached to Markham’s email.
The legal memorandum outlines the requirements that must be shown in order to prove copyright infringement.
“Here, Ohio State has a valid copyright and it is almost certain that Wakefield had ‘access’ to Ohio State’s logo prior to the creation of Wakefield’s new logo,” the memorandum states. “Thus, the issues are whether there is ‘substantial similarity’ between the works and whether Wakefield’s new logo is an ‘independent creation.’”
The writer of the legal memorandum continues, “Here, Ohio State could possibly claim that Wakefield is infringing on its design of a large, capitol (sic) letter in the background with a symbol on top of it and words arranged in a curve around it, as well as the similar color scheme. I don’t think the two are so similar that no reasonable factfinder could not find substantial similarity nor so different that no reasonable factfinder could find substantial similarity; I think the issue would probably go to the factfinder to determine.
“Given the uncertainty and costs of litigation, it might make more sense for Wakefield to go with a different logo. Then again, the documented instances where colleges sent high schools cease and desist letters appeared to be mostly when the school logos were nearly identical. For example, Notre Dame went after a high school with a nickname of the ‘Fighting Irish’ who used the fighting leprechaun as its symbol and UT went after a high school with a Longhorns logo (though a different color).”
In light of the legal opinion, Markham proposed assigning the matter to the Policy and Communications Subcommittee for further review.
“I will suggest that the Policy & Communications Subcommittee resume discussion now that we have the copyright opinion in hand,” Markham wrote in his email. “I would further request that the subcommittee report to the full School Committee its deliberation and, if applicable, its recommendation at one of the August or September SC meetings.”
A discussion at last night’s School Committee meeting confirmed the administration’s intention to conduct a student survey of logo preferences when school resumes in September.
Lyons stressed his belief that students should have a voice in the matter.
“This is for students,” he said. “I know adults are passionate in this space. This is about what students might want on their gear.”
Lyons dismissed concerns raised by committee members about the need to order uniforms and other gear before the fall without knowing what the logo will be.
“We’ve managed so far,” Lyons said. “I don’t think we need to rush.”
It was agreed that if it’s determined that a real copyright concern exists with one of the three logo finalists, the choice would be between the other two.
During public participation at the start of the meeting, Logo Committee member Ami Wall addressed the committee with her concerns regarding the whole process.
The former School Committee member indicated that there was no doubt in her mind that the current “temporary” logo is violation of copyright. But Wall also expressed concern that the school had been trying to push that logo through prior to any public knowledge or School Committee approval. She asked that the school cease using that temporary logo.
She also had issues with the Logo Committee on which she served in terms of how meetings were scheduled, then dates were changed, meetings were cancelled, etc. She said that when she asked for follow ups and presentations, she wasn’t given anything. She asked for more meetings, but nothing happened.
Wall insisted that the School Committee was not following the Logo Policy that was developed while she was on the School Committee.
“You can’t make a policy and then not follow it,” she said. As long as the process laid out in the policy is not followed, she vowed, “I will be back at every meeting.”