‘Redskins’ debate pits student newspaper editors against school administrators

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LANGHORNE, Penn. – The decision of a high school newspaper’s editorial board is being overridden by school administrators.

debateEditors at Neshaminy High School’s student newspaper voted to stop using the term “Redskins” – which is the school’s long-time mascot – but school administrators claim the student staff does not hold that authority, reports the Student Press Law Center.

The newspaper’s editorial board voted 14-7 to ban the school’s nickname from appearing in the paper.

The board issued an editorial following the vote, to explain their decision.

“The word ‘Redskin’ is racist, and very much so,” the staff wrote in the editorial. “It is not a term of honor, but a term of hate.”

Shortly after the editorial was published, the school’s principal – Rob McGee – issued a “directive” to the staff adviser, informing her that the editorial board could not make this type of decision.

McGee reportedly told the young scribes they had to keep using the word “Redskins,” at least until administrators could discuss the issue at a Nov. 19 meeting, the news site reports.

Not only are they being required to include the word in their writing, the paper isn’t allowed to reject advertisements with the word in it either, according Gillian McGoldrick, the editor-in-chief.
McGoldrick told the news site that a few days after McGee’s decree a full-page advertisement was submitted to the paper that read, “Neshaminy Redskins, nearly a century of school and community, history pride and tradition – Go Skins.”

The advertisement was submitted by the school’s vice principal of co-curriculars and paid for by an alumnus.

School administrators have yet to speak directly with the editors, choosing to communicate only through the staff adviser.

“It’s really upsetting that our rights are being questioned and that we are being forced into this situation,” McGoldrick said. “We really didn’t do anything wrong except voice our opinions.”

School board President Ritchie Webb said that he disagrees with the paper’s conclusion that the term is offensive. He also feels that the paper is infringing on the free speech rights of students and advertisers.

“Bottom line is, if people take an editorial class, are we taking away their right to freedom of speech? Are you not allowed to use ‘Redskins’ even if you want to?” Webb asked.

But McGoldrick disagrees and says that the paper has the right to make its own decision. Citing the Pennsylvania Administrative Code’s “freedom of expression” policy, she said students have the right to express themselves unless the speech “materially and substantially interferes with the educational process.”

“It wasn’t disruptive to any educational process, it wasn’t violent,” the paper’s editor-in-chief said. “It was just a pretty reasonable argument.”

Robert Hankes, president of the Pennsylvania School Press Association, said the students are correct as to the rights afforded to them.

“The paper belongs to the students,” he said. “They have the right to publish or not publish as they see fit.”

When the editor’s made the decision, they were sure to handle things in the correct manner.

They staff held a civil debate, voted on the decision, and even published a dissenting editorial that was authored by one of the seven editors who disagreed.

But now even the editors who disagreed with the original decision are upset with the way administrators are infringing on the paper’s rights.

“We just want our rights,” McGoldrick said in the story. “We just want to be able to say what’s in our paper and what’s not.

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