Neshaminy school district mulls blocking student paper ban on ‘Redskins’ name

    From left to right: Emily Scott, Reed Hennessey, and Maddy Buffardi of the Neshaminy student newspaper, support the ban on printing the word

    From left to right: Emily Scott, Reed Hennessey, and Maddy Buffardi of the Neshaminy student newspaper, support the ban on printing the word "Redskin" in The Playwickian. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

    The Neshaminy School District is considering whether its high-school’s student newspaper can refuse to print the word “Redskins,” the nickname for all of the school’s athletic teams.

    In an editorial published in The Playwickian last month, students at Bucks County’s Neshaminy High School vowed to stop publishing a term that they argue is racially insensitive.

    Some tribes say the term is as offensive to Native Americans as the N-word is to African-Americans.

    “The evidence suggesting that ‘Redskin’ is a term of honor is severely outweighed by the evidence suggesting that it is a term of hate,” read a section of the editorial published Oct. 23.  Some on the editorial staff published a dissenting opinion, saying the nickname honors Native Americans.

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    District officials have scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to consider whether to block the editorial staff’s decision.

    Junior Reed Hennessy, one of 14 editors at The Playwickian who support the printing ban, doesn’t understand why the paper’s decision needs to be discussed. A decision against the paper, he said, would show a lack of respect for student editors.

    “It sends a message that, regardless of what the students think or their rights, we’re still going to tell them what to do,” said Hennessy. “It sends a message that the newspaper at Neshaminy is nothing to be taken seriously.”

    Under the U.S. Constitution, the district cannot force, or compel, students to print “Redskins” in the paper, said Ken Paulson, president of The First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

    “The government, the school administration, can only limit what they publish if it is something that interferes and undercuts the educational process. In this case, it is absolutely at the heart of education to allow students to make decisions about how we refer to others,” said Paulson.

    He said a lawsuit against the district would be a “slam-dunk” win for students. Hennessy said students may seek legal representation if the district decides against them.

    Messages left with district Superintendent Robert Copeland and Neshaminy Principal Robert McGee were not returned.

    The hearing comes as cries continue for the NFL’s Washington Redskins and MLB’s Cleveland Indians to change their names.

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