Neshaminy board OKs new policy on use of 'Redskin'

Neshaminy High student Jackson Haines before board.
Neshaminy High student Jackson Haines before board. (MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 28, 2014

A decision has been reached.

Will it be challenged? Time will tell.

After months of contentious debate, the Neshaminy school board overwhelmingly approved a policy Thursday that would limit, but not eliminate, the ability of students to edit out the word Redskin, Neshaminy High School's mascot, from the high school newspaper.

The policy, as approved by the board, will allow students to remove Redskin - a word they have deemed derogatory - from news articles, but not editorials or opinion columns.

The policy also outlines other instances in which editorial guidelines for students could be restricted, and includes new measures surrounding the paper's preprinting approval process.

Students and their lawyer calmly stated in front of the board Thursday that they felt the policy gave too much power to administrators and should not be approved.

But the meeting lacked the drama that has accompanied the situation in Neshaminy all year - and the students who spoke stopped short of announcing an intent to sue, a measure they had threatened if a policy they deemed heavy-handed were approved.

In an interview after the meeting, Gillian McGoldrick - editor-in-chief of the Playwickian, Neshaminy High's newspaper - said a lawsuit was still possible.

But she said the students would confer with one another and their attorneys before deciding the next step.

"I can't rule anything out at this point," she said.

The board passed the policy, 8-1, without any discussion.

If there is no future action from the students, Thursday's vote would close a saga that began in October, when the editorial board for the Playwickian voted, 14-7, that Redskin was derogatory and they would not print it.

Principal Rob McGee ordered the ban overturned a month later, saying it could infringe upon the First Amendment rights of those who wanted to use the word.

The students said they would not comply, and lawyers for the district and the editors jumped into the fray.

This month, students removed an op-ed column containing the word and printed the newspaper without McGee's approval.

McGee responded by confiscating copies, and Steve Pirritano, a board member, said that the district was investigating and that he would not rule out referring the case to police, since district funds were spent without permission.

The back-and-forth was thrust into the national spotlight as debate has swirled around the Washington Redskins' name.

But emotions at Thursday's meeting were comparably muted.

McGoldrick and fellow editors Jackson Haines and Reed Hennessy, all 17-year-old rising seniors, addressed their concerns about the new policy, such as a 10-day approval process before printing, and limitations on the editorial board's ability to endorse political candidates. They also said an item allowing administrators to remove language from the paper for a "reasonable reason" was vague and too broad.

When the policy was passed, however, there was little reaction in the room.

During the public-comment portion, several speakers said they supported the students in their fight.

McGoldrick said community support had steeled the editors throughout their eight-month battle and encouraged them to stand up for their beliefs.

"We're all strong-willed enough," she said, "that we want to keep fighting."


cpalmer@phillynews.com609-217-8305 @cs_palmer

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