PA School Suspends Student, Teacher Over Refusal to Print ‘Redskins’

The Neshaminy High School, Pennsylvania sports team nickname is the Redskins, which is obviously a matter of some controversy. The student editor of the school paper made a policy of not using that word in the paper and has now been suspended, along with the faculty adviser for not stopping her from implementing that policy.

Gillian McGoldrick, the paper’s student Editor-in-Chief, was suspended from the paper for a month. The paper’s faculty adviser Tara Huber was also suspended without pay for two days by district Superintendent Robert Copeland for failing to stop the students from moving ahead with their ban on the word.

Tensions between the school’s administration and the editors of Playwickian have been building for nearly a year. Twice the editors of the Playwickian announced they would not print the name of the school’s mascot because it is offensive to Native Americans, opting instead to run it as “R——-”, and twice principal Rob McGee threatened to discipline the paper and any editors who refused to print the word. McGee also reportedly confiscated copies of the paper during a meeting with McGoldrick in June, deducted $1,200 from the paper’s account, and attempted to block access to the paper’s social media accounts.

The case got so heated that it has attracted the attention of press freedom advocates at the Student Press Law Center, who stepped in last fall to help defend the editors in case school officials followed through with their threats. Any disciplinary action taken by the public school could leave the district open to legal action for violating students’ free speech, an attorney at the SPLC told Poynter in July.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has given schools way more control over student newspapers than they should have in many rulings over the decades. But I’d sure like to see a lawsuit filed here.

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  • Johnny Vector

    Yes, the SC has given schools lots of power to limit what students say. But have they really given them the power to limit what students don’t say?

  • Broken Things

    So McGee and Copeland are authoritarian jerks who can’t see the forest of public controversy surrounding the tree of a threat to their status as authoritarian jerks. Any reasonable person would have left this alone and let it play out as public debate. I hope that someone does file a lawsuit over it.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    I propose a simple copy/paste solution: replace each instance of “Redskin” with “Racist”.

  • Mr Ed

    In response to the heavy hand of the administration Boston University students started a newspaper independent of the university. I would find it very interesting is some of the students printed their own broadsheet free of any administration editorial policies and made it available to the students. Heck this is the 21st century maybe an online paper in exile.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    It’s probably best that they change the team name, if only to minimize the uncomfortable silence from both sides in the stands when they face neighboring Southampton High’s Smallpox Blankets, not to mention other local teams, like Firewater or the Broken Treaties.

  • alanb

    I would propose changing the name to the Neshaminy High School Honkies.

  • eric

    Agree to use the mascot’s name. Then change the title of the paper to The Neshaminy Pravda.

  • caseloweraz

    The Neshaminy High School, Pennsylvania sports team nickname is the Redskins, which is obviously a matter of some controversy.

    Not that it would likely diminish the controversy much, but I think it might have been smarter to simply avoid the word entirely. Stories could say something like “Neshaminy’s footballers won a tough game on Saturday against the heavily favored Kinzua Dammers, a team from Warren in western Pennsylvania.”

    I’m assuming here that the nickname refers to the high school’s football team. But if it’s used for all sports teams, the same strategy could apply.

    (Yes, “Kinzua Dammers” is a made-up name.)

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Makes you wish you could fund an independent free paper. Wouldn’t that be fun?

  • Chiroptera

    caseloweratz, #8: Not that it would likely diminish the controversy much, but I think it might have been smarter to simply avoid the word entirely.

    I’m guessing that the editor and teacher weren’t simply trying to not offend people but were deliberately being provocative in order to take a visible stand on the issue.

  • eric

    @8 – I agree with Chiroptera; it would clearly be an editorial call just to use “Neshaminy’s team” rather than “The ‘skins” or whatever. The fact that they are using “R______” seems to indicate a desire by the paper and teacher sponsor to make it an issue. In addition to that point, there may be some standardized bylines or other template usages of the mascot’s same.

  • beezlebubby

    I was going to comment on how sad it is that teens are more morally well-adjusted than their school administrators, but then I realized that I’m glad to see even more evidence of a rapidly-evolving youth-led morality that will leave past generations in the dust (many still clutching their bibles and guns).

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    The principal’s office released a statement:

    Squaw drink firewater. Think she big chief now. McGee say McGee big chief. Chief hoot and pat mouth now.

  • alanb
  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    I would have listed the team’s name as the “Redsinks” and then bemoaned the “awful” typo I had let slip by (and also let slip the next week and the next…)

  • eric

    @14 – good article. Though frankly I think the school’s proposed compromise seems fine with me (it was: the paper editors can ban or “R_____” the word in the news articles they write, but not ban it or replace it in letters to the editor they accept for inclusion from ther students). It might be perfectly constitutional for the editors to modify the letters to the editor to conform to their ethics standards, but OTOH, I’d say that that’s something to avoid doing if you can. That teaches the student journalists another good lesson – that sometimes a free press is best served by permitting people you don’t agree with to have a voice in your publication.

  • colnago80

    Well, if the school board gets hit with a lawsuit, maybe they can get Danny Snyder to pay for their lawyers.

  • moarscienceplz

    @eric #16

    ISTM this boils down to this: Is the “R” word roughly equivalent to the “N” word? I think it is. Both have been used most often by the empowered majority in a way that clearly disparages a racial minority. Do you feel that a professional newspaper should be required by the Judiciary to print the full “N” word in any letter-to-the-editor that contains it? If not, why are you OK with forcing student editors to print a term they feel similarly disparages another racial group?

  • whheydt

    Perhaps the school admins should read some of the articles on Slate about the Washington NFL team…whom they will generally not name.

  • eric

    moarsciencplz:

    Do you feel that a professional newspaper should be required by the Judiciary to print the full “N” word in any letter-to-the-editor that contains it?

    No, I don’t think they should be required. I already said that in my last post: I agree its legal for the editors to exercise editorial control over letters to the editor. I think in this case it would’ve been a reasonable compromise for the editors to make, in order to get on with the activity of putting out a paper while not having to use the word themselves. You want to avoid a lawsuit and delays with publication, sometimes you have to make compromises. The one the school proposed seems reasonable to me; both parties get something of what they want, but not everything.

  • greg1466

    This one hits really close to home as I’m a graduate of Neshaminy. I too am hoping for a lawsuit. It will also be interesting to see if the district changes its stance if the NFLs Washington team changes it’s name.