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Student Newspaper Editor Suspended for Not Printing 'Redskins' Nickname

The battle over the "Redskins" nickname at Neshaminy (Pa.) High School kicked up another notch last week, as district superintendent Robert Copeland suspended the student newspaper's editor-in-chief, Gillian McGoldrick, for a month. The paper's faculty adviser, Tara Huber, also received a two-day suspension.

Last fall, the editorial board for the student-run newspaper, The Playwickian, voted 14-7 to stop using the word "Redskins" in reference to the school's athletic teams. The school's principal temporarily overturned the ban, but lawyers soon intervened and warned school officials that the students would continue banning the word. The conflict flared up again at the end of the 2013-14 school year, as the paper's staff changed "Redskins" to "R--------" in a student-submitted letter defending the use of the nickname.

Over the summer, the Neshaminy school board approved a policy that allows editors of the paper to remove the "Redskins" nickname in all pieces aside from editorials or letters to the editor. The policy also called for the editors to submit each edition of the paper to the principal 10 days in advance of publication for prior review, as opposed to their previous three-day period.

According to the Student Press Law Center, Huber's suspension came as a result of the June conflict over the censored letter to the editor. After principal Ron McGee told the staff to print the word in full or not print the paper at all, Huber reportedly left the room as the student editors deliberated what to do.

"We all decided unanimously that we're going to send the paper to print the way that we feel comfortable sending the paper to print," opinion editor Maddy Buffardi told the SPLC.

The Pennsylvania School Press Association named Huber the Journalism Teacher of the Year for 2014-15 back in June.

Jane Blystone, a member of the Journalism Education Association's scholastic press rights commission, told the SPLC that the superintendent also deducted $1,200 from the newspaper's account as a result of their actions in June.

SPLC attorney Adam Goldstein spoke with Poynter's Benjamin Mullen in July about the ongoing conflict, suggesting that the school is opening itself up to legal challenges by forcing the paper to print the word "Redskins."

The school board's policy that prevents editors from removing "redskins" in submissions to the newspaper could open up the district to legal action because it imposes an unconstitutional restriction on the students editors' free speech, Adam Goldstein, an attorney for the Student Press Law Center, told Poynter. This rule is particularly egregious, Goldstein said, because it purports to force students to adopt a certain kind of speech. Because of this, Goldstein does not think it can survive legal challenge.

"It may be possible to get dumber people on a school board, but I don't how you go about it," Goldstein said.

The latest suspensions caught the attention of the student newspaper at Foothill Technology (Calif.) High School, which began a campaign on IndieGogo.com to help cover the costs of the $1,200 stripped from the paper and the money Huber lost due to suspension. As of this writing, the campaign has already raised more than $5,100, smashing its $2,400 goal.

ESPN's Keith Olbermann also highlighted the Neshaminy staff during his "World's Worst" segment for refusing to honor the paper's decision to ban the nickname:

NPR compiled an incomplete list of major national writers or outlets that have implemented a similar ban on the nickname "Redskins," including Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, USA Today's Christine Brennan, and NBC's Cris Collinsworth. Last week, a group of Democratic senators introduced a bill to strip the NFL of its tax-exempt status if it "continues to back the Washington Redskins name," The Washington Post's Ian Shapira reported.

One thing's for sure: We likely haven't heard the last of the battle waging on at Neshaminy.

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