The national spotlight is once again shining on the student editors of Neshaminy High School and, specifically, the word “Redskins.”
Some of the country’s top journalism groups are rounding up support for the Bucks County teens who vowed last fall not to print the name of Neshaminy’s decades-old mascot because they found it outdated and offensive.
In a letter sent out Monday, 20 groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, urged some of the country’s top education organizations to publicly denounce the Neshaminy School District for allowing a policy limiting the students’ ban to remain on the books, as well as a series of punitive measures taken against the paper and its adviser.
They are the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the American Association of School Administrators, and the National Association of State Boards of Education.
“It is not possible to effectively teach journalism, and to recruit and retain students to perform their essential community service role as news gatherers in the environment of open contempt for fundamental American freedoms that exists in Neshaminy,” states part of the letter.
In response to the student-led ban, the Neshaminy School Board passed a policy in late June that bars editors from banning the word from editorials, though they could keep it out of news articles.
They argued that the law doesn’t allow one set of students to stop another set of students from expressing him or herself, as long as the word “Redskins” was being used to refer to the mascot and not as a racial slur.
In September, shortly after the start of the school year, Neshaminy Principal Rob McGee suspended The Playwickian’s adviser, Tara Huber, for two days without pay and fined the paper $1,200.
Gillian McGoldrick, one of The Playwickian’s editors, was also suspended for a month.
Students suspect the moves were tied to the paper’s decision to publish last school year’s final issue without a letter-to-the-editor that repeatedly used the word “Redskins.” Instead, the students published an explanation of why they didn’t print the letter, penned by the son of a school board member.
“This is certainly in an educational sense the equivalent of plagiarism or just another fundamental breach of professional ethics. When you use your school authority to force young people to say words that they in good faith believe to be a racial and ethnic slur, then you’re overreaching your authority and it’s time that everybody say so,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, one of the groups that signed Monday’s letter.
Reached Tuesday, NASSP spokesman Bob Farrace said his organization was not, at this time, ready to flat out oppose the Neshaminy School District. His group, he said, has not yet had the chance to take a good look at the letter.
“We’re looking forward to supporting some resolution that honors both the authority of the district and upholds the importance of student voice at the school,” said Farrace.
The National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators and the National Association of State Boards of Education did not respond to requests for comment.
The letter comes as the student’s prepare to publish the school year’s first issue of The Playwickian on Thursday.
McGoldrick said a lawsuit is still possible, but that, right now, staffers are just looking to put out “the best paper possible.”
An investigation into a complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is still ongoing. The case, which is now eligible to go to court, is aimed at having Neshaminy School District drop its beloved mascot.
Cries for the NFL’s Washington club to do the same are also still out there.