Neshaminy student newspaper to resume 'redskin' ban

Posted: December 25, 2013

LANGHORNE What started as a journalistic exercise at Neshaminy High School may end in a courtroom.

A law firm representing student newspaper editors has told school officials that the editors plan to resume their ban on printing the word redskin - and that any attempt to stop them would be unconstitutional.

"The students will proceed in accordance with their published policy and, if disciplined for doing so, will take action to defend their rights," said the seven-page letter sent Friday by lawyers at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.

The letter marked the latest volley in a battle unfolding across the country. Neshaminy's started in October, when the student editors banned the high school mascot name from their monthly paper. It escalated last month when principal Rob McGee overturned the ban, around the time the football team was marching toward the state playoffs.

A lawyer for the students on Monday would not predict the next step - or rule out a lawsuit.

In an e-mail Monday, McGee wrote that "those skilled in interpretations of the law" will work to find a solution, and that if one cannot be reached, "then the courts will define a new standard to fit our particular situation in Neshaminy."

Such a situation would be exceptionally rare, according to Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which coordinated the pro bono legal representation for Neshaminy's publication, the Playwickian.

LoMonte said he could remember only one other case in his six-year tenure at the organization that made its way to court, and that issue was resolved before it got to a judge, he said.

But the editors at Neshaminy are fighting over a policy decision, he said, not the content of a story or issue, as is the case in most disputes.

Therefore, he said, "you wouldn't hesitate to take it to court, because it would have lasting impact."

Gillian McGoldrick, 16, the Playwickian's editor-in-chief, said student editors were resolved to again enforce the ban.

They had complied with McGee's directive to lift the ban in November, publishing an ad that contained redskin for that edition.

McGee said banning the word could threaten the First Amendment rights of those who wanted to use it.

Friday's letter to the school district solicitor - copied to several district administrators, including McGee - called his directive "plainly unconstitutional."

The students' decision about redskins has inspired media attention from across the country over the past two months, as debate swirls around the professional football team of the same name.

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has made more than a dozen unpublicized trips to meet with American Indian tribes, according to reports.

The latest development in Neshaminy's saga came close to home.

In an editorial over the weekend, the Bucks County Courier Times - citing the Neshaminy editors - said it would discontinue using redskin and urged the school district to acknowledge the students' determination.

"We call on the school board to act, to engage the community in a discussion, and to give students the validation and respect they deserve," it said.


cpalmer@phillynews.com609-217-8305

@cs_palmer

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