After a months-long conflict that has called into question the constitutionality of a new school policy, student editors at Neshaminy High School in southeast Pennsylvania are prepared to keep fighting a rule, passed by the school board in June, that would prevent them from editing out ‘redskin’ in submissions to the paper.
The defiance is the latest skirmish in a battle that began in October, when the Playwickian’s editorial board voted not to use the term — which is used to refer to the school’s mascot — in any of their content, according to a Philly.com story. That decision was quickly disputed by the school’s principal, Rob McGee, who contended “it could infringe upon the First Amendment rights of those who wanted to use the word,” according to the article.
That dispute escalated in June, when the editors refused to publish a student’s op-ed containing the word, defying the principal’s earlier request to run the column with the word intact, Gillian McGoldrick, a co-editor of the Playwickian, told Poynter. McGoldrick said the principal responded to the omission by confiscating copies of the newspaper and calling McGoldrick in for a meeting to discuss why she decided to publish the edition without authorization.
Shortly after, the Playwickian’s adviser, Tara Huber, told the editors that she had been instructed by the principal to change all the passwords for the publication’s social media accounts, McGoldrick said. The students remain locked out of these accounts and are unable to publish any stories on their website, she said.
The superintendent of Neshaminy School District did not return calls for comment before this story was published. Calls to the publicly listed number for Neshaminy High School were not returned. An email addressed to Huber’s school account was not returned.
The principal justified his decision to restrict access to the social media accounts in a message on the school website. Continuing to allow students administrative privileges might enable them to change the passwords and eliminate adult supervision, he wrote.
“Recent graduates and existing editors had administrative access to each account, technically permitting someone to change a password and lock the adults out,” the statement reads. “Given the events of the previous week, I thought it wise to ‘close the barn door’ for the time being.”
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 know how you go about it,” Goldstein said.
In their refusal, The Playwickian joins a long list of news organizations that have purged the term ‘redskin,’ from its pages, including Slate, Mother Jones, The New Republic and The Oregonian. Recently, a blogger hired by the Redskins to defend the team name announced his resignation on Twitter, citing repeated personal attacks.