Student editors at Neshaminy High School's newspaper, The Playwickian, have decided they will longer use the word "Redskins," which is the school's nickname for its sport teams.
Neshaminy High School even has a sign that reads: "Everybody do the Redskin Rumble."
The controversy began with an Oct. 23 editorial in The Playwickian, by the student editors, that stated: "Detractors will argue that the word is used with all due respect. But the offensiveness of a word cannot be judged by its intended meaning, but by how it is received."
"People are [saying], 'Just give in. It doesn't really matter,'" Gillian McGoldrick, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, told the Associated Press. "But it's a huge deal, that we're being forced to say something that we don't want to."
Principal Robert McGee emailed the paper’s adviser, Tara Huber, with a “directive" that Huber passed onto the student editors.
“[Principal] McGee said, ‘I don’t think you have the right to not use the word Redskins,’” Reed Hennessy, the newspaper’s sports editor, told the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“It’s really upsetting that our rights are being questioned and that we are being forced into this situation,” stated McGoldrick. “We really didn’t do anything wrong except voice our opinions.”
“We have editorial control,” McGoldrick added. “We can’t censor, we’re an editorial board... We adopted this policy, and we should be able to use it.”
McGoldrick and Hennessy claim that the Pennsylvania Administrative Code’s “freedom of expression” policy allows to students express themselves unless that expression is “materially and substantially interferes with the educational process."
“It wasn't disruptive to any educational process, it wasn't violent,” added Hennessy. “It was just a pretty reasonable argument.”
Principal McGee, who will meet with the student editors tomorrow, claims the Washington Redskins have not given up their use of the name so the issue has not been decided.
"I don't think that's been decided at the national level, whether that word is or is not [offensive]. It's our school mascot," Principal McGee told the Associated Press. "I see it as a First Amendment issue running into another First Amendment issue."
The nonprofit Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania say the school probably cannot force students to use an offensive word.
"I understand that there's an inclination to want to protect a tradition at the school. But the First Amendment is a longer and a better-established tradition," said Frank LoMonte, of the Student Press Law Center. "It's exactly what we tell young people in the abstract we want them to do: use their voices in positive ways to bring about social change. And yet when they tried to do it in practice, the school slapped them down. That's a bad place for an educator to be."
Sources: Student Press Law Center, Associated Press, The Playwickian