Student suspended from paper for refusing to print “Redskin”

In October 2013, the student editorial board of Neshaminy High School’s paper The Playwickian voted to stop using the word “Redskins” in the paper.

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In October 2013, the student editorial board of Neshaminy High School’s paper The Playwickian voted to stop using the word “Redskins” in the paper.

The motion, passed by a 14 – 7 vote, was controversial because Neshaminy High’s sports teams, like the famous NFL franchise, go by the nickname.

In defense of their decision, the student editors of the Pennsylvania high school newspaper wrote, “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.”

The word would henceforth appear in the paper with just its first letter, followed by dashes, in accordance to the standard AP style for referencing offensive terms.

As a response, Principal Robert McGee told the editors that the June 2014 issue of The Playwickian needed to include a letter to the editor using the offensive word printed in its entirety, or the paper would not be allowed to be printed.

Instead, the students went to press without his required permission, which caused McGee and other school officials to confiscate the papers. At the time of the incident, the paper’s student editor Gillian McGoldrick accepted responsibility for sending the paper to print — although also mentioning that it was a unanimous decision — and said that, “That would be the biggest punishment, getting taken off the paper. I don’t care about getting suspended, but I care about getting kicked off the paper.”

McGee, as punishment for the unapproved issue going to press, then suspended the paper’s faculty adviser Tara Hauber two days, removed student editor-in-chief McGoldrick from running the paper for the entirety of September, and also removed $1200 in funding from the paper, which was the cost of printing the June issue. Hauber was also docked her paycheck during her two-day suspension.

The principle of the school said that he believed other students should be allowed to use the word, saying “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. I see it as a First Amendment issue running into another First Amendment issue.”

Executive director of the Student Press Law Center Frank LaMonte indicated that the issue would probably have to be settled in the courts, while also noting that “We do not have any doubt that the school districts course of conduct will be found to violate both the First Amendment and Pennsylvania state law. [It is] literally the most extreme anti-student policy we have ever seen in any school district in America.”

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