Dispute over Neshaminy’s ‘Redskins’ mascot nears hearing

 (Eugene Sonn/WHYY)

(Eugene Sonn/WHYY)

A preliminary ruling by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has found that a Bucks County high school’s mascot is offensive and should be changed.

Meanwhile, the Neshaminy district is pushing for a full hearing so it can fight to keep the nickname “Redskins.”

Langhorne resident Donna Boyle first filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission back in August of 2013, charging that the Neshaminy High School Redskins name was a racial slur that discriminates against her son.

After months of inaction, a commission administrator quietly sided with her in January, recommending further proceedings. Last week, a full hearing before the 11-member commission was announced, though it hasn’t been scheduled yet.

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“Yeah, I feel sort of vindicated,” said Boyle. “Just to be able to tell them ‘Here, this is what these people who have authority, who write the rules that you’re supposed to follow, this is what they think of you, and this is what they think of your school district and your behavior.'”

Boyle, of Native American heritage, said it took her months to file the initial complaint. But attorney Michael Levin, representing the Neshaminy School District, said the complaint was vague  and doesn’t match what the district is charged with by the commission’s preliminary finding.

“What she filed in her complaint and what was stated in the probable cause findings by some unnamed administrator are two different things,” said Levin. “In other words, this case has morphed into something which we were never given advanced notice or an opportunity to respond.”

Levin, who maintains that context of the use of the name matters, said the district will fight for as long as it takes, potentially all the way to federal court.

“That’s our whole point, the school district will not tolerate the improper use of the word Redskins, but there’s also a proper use that is not derogatory,” Levin said.

“It’s highly ridiculous, and they’re just bringing more shame to themselves,” responded Boyle. “When you’ve got these [non-discrimination] policies in your school district and then you say ‘Yeah, but we have an exception’ — there is no exception to the rule, there’s no exception for Native American people but they’ve chosen to ignore their own policies. This school district looks like a joke and it’s really sad. I have no trust in these people.”

Boyle said she doesn’t care how long the hearings last, she’d fight it even after her son graduates if that’s what it takes.

The district has also fought editors at Neshaminy’s student newspaper. In October of 2013, the students adopted a policy refusing to print the word Redskins. The district overruled that policy, which has not since been tested.

A year after Boyle initially filed her complaint to the PHRC, she became eligible to take the case to court. She said she met with a PHRC representative at a conciliation meeting of all involved parties back in early February, to see if a settlement could be reached.

“I got the vibe that these people [the commission], they’ve made their decision, and now we just have to follow the order of the way things go,” said Boyle. “I don’t feel I’m being ignored or it’s fallen by the wayside.”

Boyle said the meeting didn’t last long. When Levin walked in, she said, he asked if this preliminary finding meant they had to change the name. When the PHRC representative said yes, Boyle said Levin essentially turned and walked out.

Levin said the school district was well prepared to do a number of things, including training for students about the different aspects of the use of the word and the history of it, but says the commission was unwilling to consider anything unless the district stopped using the term.

“Since they weren’t willing to consider any compromise of any nature, the meeting ended,” said Levin.

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