Oregon's Department of Education has enough important tasks to work on without delving into the conundrum involving schools that have American Indian mascots and logos.

Education, for instance.

That one's even printed on the agency's headquarters, so it should be easy to remember.

Nonetheless, the state Board of Education last December appointed an advisory panel to ponder the matter of mascots.

The board's move was prompted by Che Butler, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz in Western Oregon. Last December Butler, then a senior at Taft High School in Lincoln City, urged the board to ban Indian-related mascots. Butler contends the symbols perpetuate racial stereotypes.

Butler's concern is a legitimate one, and we commend him for taking such a public stand on an issue important to him and to other Indians.

But the decision on what to do about mascots and logos that Butler and some (though not all) Indians deem inappropriate should not be made in Salem.

School mascots, some of which have been in place for more than a century, are intensely local issues. Deciding whether to change a mascot or a logo, or both, is a decision that ought to be left to officials from each of the 15 high schools the state panel discussed.

Among those 15 schools, seven have as their mascot andquot;Warriors,andquot; five andquot;Indians,andquot; two andquot;Bravesandquot; and one andquot;Chieftains.andquot;

Instead, the board of education formed the advisory panel, which convened this summer in a trio of closed-door meetings to which officials from the affected schools were not invited.

Last month the panel recommended that Susan Castillo, the state superintendent for public instruction, require those 15 public schools with Indian mascots to replace them by September 2011.

Only after giving its recommendation to Castillo did the panel invite representatives from the 15 schools to join the discussion.

Put simply, the state botched this from the start.

The advisory panel's belated invitation to officials from the targeted schools is especially galling because there is a precedent in Oregon showing that a school can deal with these situations without guidance from Salem.

That school is Enterprise High, up in Wallowa County.

In 2005 the students at Enterprise voted to recommend the school board change the school's mascot from Savages to Outlaws, and to get rid of the school's logo, which was a caricature of an Indian.

The school board agreed to do so.

We don't believe any high school purposely belittles Indians; mascots, after all, are a point of pride for schools and communities, not objects of ridicule.

Still, a mascot which high school students paint on their cheeks before games might deeply offend an Indian who'd rather not have his or her heritage co-opted for the celebration of a game-winning touchdown or three-pointer. In such cases, school officials have an obligation to try to resolve the situation. The solution could be as simple as changing a logo but leaving the mascot as is.

Ultimately, though, the best and fairest way to handle such situations is on a school-by-school basis, as exemplified by the Enterprise case, rather than issuing ultimatums from Salem.