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Pa. Student Newspaper to Resume Ban on Using 'Redskins' Nickname

Student newspaper editors at Neshaminy (Pa.) High School plan on resuming their ban on printing the word "Redskins," threatening legal action if school administrators attempt to discipline them.

Athletic teams at Neshaminy have been known as the "Redskins" for decades, but the editorial board for the school's student-run newspaper, The Playwickian, voted 14-7 earlier this fall to stop using the name in future issues.   

"The change is not being encouraged for the sake of political correctness itself, but for the sake of being respectful and fair to an entire race," the board majority wrote in an unsigned editorial. "If racist institutions had remained in other areas of society simply because they were time-honored traditions America would be a vastly different place."

The seven dissenting voters wrote a counter editorial in the same issue of the paper, defending not the name itself, but the school's specific usage of it.

"Neshaminy creates their own definition of Redskin, apart from the barbaric word that dictionaries classify it as," the board minority wrote. "And this is the definition that bestows pride, dignity, and accomplishment. The definition that the populace should base their opinions on. The word in Neshaminy's context upholds an ageless integrity and a tradition that cannot shatter so easily."

A few days after the publication of the two editorials, Principal Rob McGee emailed English teacher Tara Huber, who serves as the faculty adviser for the newspaper, and temporarily overturned the ban. The decision to ban the term "Redskins" was placed "on hold" until the administration "can determine that a school newspaper has such authority and that this policy does not infringe on the rights of others," McGee wrote. Students and advertisers had the option of not using the name "Redskins" in their articles or advertisements, McGee said, but the paper couldn't prohibit students or advertisers from publishing articles or ads "solely because of the use of words Redskins or Skins."

In an unsigned editorial published on Nov. 20, the paper's editors called McGee's decision "a clear infringement on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech." The paper's editors met with McGee on the evening of Nov. 21 to make their case, but he didn't budge.

"It was a two-and-a-half hour meeting, and we did not get anything done," said the paper's editor-in-chief, Gillian McGoldrick, to the Student Law Press Center. "For now, we're sort of stuck in a standstill."

That standstill could be nearing its resolution, however. Lawyers at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schultz warned school officials in a seven-page letter last Friday that "the students will proceed in accordance with their published policy and, if disciplined for doing so, will take action to defend their rights," reports Chris Palmer of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In an e-mail to the Inquirer on Monday, McGee said that if "those skilled in interpretations of the law" couldn't find a simple solution, "then the courts will define a new standard to fit our particular situation in Neshaminy."

The local Bucks County Courier Times announced its intention to cease using the word "Redskins" in reference to Neshaminy's sports teams in a Dec. 23 editorial, citing the Playwickian's ban.

Nationally, the debate over the "Redskins" name escalated significantly during the 2013 football season. Peter King of the Sports Illustrated-affiliated MMQB.com decided to stop using the term in September, while Slate, Mother Jones, the Washington City Paper and The New Republic all announced in August that they also wouldn't be printing the name "Redskins" any longer.

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