Students at a Philadelphia-area high school are being punished for not using the word “redskin.”
Like the Washington, D.C., NFL team that just lost its trademark, Neshaminy High School has as its mascot a brown man’s face wearing a headdress—and the mascot is called “Redskin,” a term that is offensive to Native Americans. When the editors at the school’s newspaper decided last October that they would omit the derogatory term from their publication, faculty at the Langhorne, Pa., school didn’t have a problem with that move—as long as they continued to use the word in editorials and letters to the editor. Alumni and board members ruled in June that students could leave the term out of strictly-news stories, according to All Digitocracy.
According to CBS Philadelphia, school board member Steve Pirritano says that students published the June 14 newspaper—with the ethnic slur omitted throughout the publication—without authorization. Principal Rob McGee, in turn, confiscated copies of the newspaper, and the student editors faced backlash from school officials, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. Students were threatened with funding cuts and even suggestions that the editors be criminally charged.
Editor Reed Hennessy, a 17-year-old rising senior, said that the controversial policy passed by the school board last month stripped student editors of their First Amendment rights. Reed said during a Google Hangout earlier this week that instead of adhering to the school’s new policy, the editors would not recognize it because it violates state and federal student press laws.
Since the controversy began, the editors have been locked out of the newspaper’s email and social media accounts, according to All Digitocracy. They are also now required to submit articles for administrative review 10 days before publication instead of the three days they were allowed.
Despite the school’s efforts to restrict the students’ editorial duties, other newspapers in Pennsylvania, including the Philadelphia Daily News, have also banned the term.
Even with the board’s final decision to take over the editorial process, Editor-in-Chief Gillian McGoldrick, 17, is still optimistic about the students’ position. “We’re all strong-willed enough that we want to keep fighting,” she told the Philadelphia Daily News.
Taryn Finley is a summer intern at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.