By Andrea Lorenz
HOUSTON (Reuters) - The Houston school board will vote on Thursday whether to stop using mascot names such as "Redskins" that reference Native American culture and have been called offensive by advocacy groups.
The Houston Independent School District (HISD) is one of the largest in the United States and its decision could influence other school systems that are reconsidering mascot names which may be inappropriate.
The use of ethnic team names and mascots came under new scrutiny this year with a campaign to pressure the National Football League's Washington Redskins to change their name.
Native Americans and others have long derided the Redskins moniker as racist.
The Houston vote will be taken for four schools: The Lamar High School Redskins, the Hamilton Middle School Indians, the Welch Middle School Warriors and the Westbury High School Rebels. The "rebel" name has been seen as a reference to the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis, a leading advocate for the change, has argued that names such as the Lamar Redskins are "a relic of a shameful, discriminatory past."
"I know that the leadership of HISD and Lamar High School do not intend to offend anyone with the mascot's name, but, simply put, times change," he said in a letter to the Houston school superintendent this month.
More than 1,000 current and former students at Lamar High School have signed an online petition to keep the Redskins mascot, calling it a part of a proud tradition.
"The name has never been identified as having a negative impact upon the students of Lamar High School either socially, culturally, or academically," the petition says.
If the measure is approved on Thursday, it would come up for a second vote in January, after which the name change would be implemented.
Houston schools superintendent Terry Grier said in a statement this week he is confident that "HISD will have a new policy that corrects a longstanding wrong."
Some Native American groups, such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida, have signed off on the use of their names.
The Seminole Tribe granted written permission to Florida State University to use its name, saying the school has taught people about its traditions and culture.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)