A Pennsylvania high school’s name-change debate is playing out just like the one in Washington, D.C.
Both Neshaminy High School and the pro football team have the mascot name of “Redskins.” Proponents of the mascot say that it is a tradition and not meant to offend Native Americans. Opponents of the name say it’s a racial slur. And now, just like The Washington Post, Neshaminy’s school newspaper, The Playwickian voted not to use the R-word.
“The word Redskin is racist, and very much so,” staff of The Playwickian wrote in an editorial in last month. “It is not a term of honor, but a term of hate.” The student staff voted 14-7 not to use the word in its reporting.
However, school administrators have recently told the paper’s adviser that the students cannot make that call, according to SPLC.org.
According to reports from the Student Press Law Center, the school’s principal Robert McGee emailed the paper’s adviser, Tara Huber, with a “directive.”
“McGee said, ‘I don’t think you have the right to not use the word Redskin,’" Reed Hennessy, the paper’s sports editor, told SPLC.org. The staff is also not allowed to reject advertisements with the word.
"It sends a message that, regardless of what the students think or their rights, we're still going to tell them what to do," Hennessy said to Newsworks.com. "It sends a message that the newspaper at Neshaminy is nothing to be taken seriously."
A dissenting editorial was also written in the same edition that Playwickian staffers explained their decision not to use the R-word. The dissenting article said that the word “Redskin” "reflects back to the district's heritage; the land on which Native Americans once walked and is depicted as tribute, rather than tarnish."
District officials have scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to consider whether to block the editorial staff's decision.
McGee, however, has also said that the school will not change its mascot despite pushback from some members in the Neshaminy community.
Donna Boyle, a Neshaminy mom, has advocated against the mascot.
“I started off emailing school board members and telling them that the word was considered a racial slur and demeaning,” Boyle said. She went to five or six school board meetings and brought the issue to the board members', including the principal. She was told “we’re 'Redskins' and that’s the way it will always stay.”
After those requests to change the name were ignored, she sent a letter. But, “They lawyered up,” Boyle said. So, Boyle took her request a huge step further.
In August, Boyle filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania School Board to nix the name. And last month, legal papers were served on the board.
“The school’s policy says that it will provide a learning environment free from all discrimination and harassment,” Boyle said to ICTMN. She argues that the school is breaking its own policy by continuing to use the name. “[They say] we don’t mean it that way, but the problem is that it is defined that way and people take it that way.”
“I feel that any form of appropriation is wrong,” said Boyle. “When you use a human being as a mascot you dehumanize them.”
Neshaminy Principal Robert McGee did not return ICTMN's phone call for comment.
“I hope that my son won’t have to buy a yearbook that has 'Redskins' on the front of it,” Boyle said.