Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pennsylvania School Demands Students Keep Using Racial Slur

If racist institutions had remained in other areas of society 
simply because they were time-honored traditions
America would be a vastly different place. 
--Neshaminy HS student newspaper editorial

This from the Huffington Post:
If you're looking for the dumbest thing a high school administration has done this year, you can probably stop looking.

From the Neshaminy High School Playwickian
Student newspaper editors at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania recently attracted a bit of attention when they published an editorial explaining they wouldn't use the football team's name, "Redskins," in print, writing in an editorial that the term "is racist, and very much so."

Living in the Washington, D.C. area, I knew the supporters of the team weren't going to like that decision. And that's fine -- you don't have to like everything a newspaper does or doesn't do.
But I didn't anticipate the school would insist that students keep using the word. But students say they have been told that they must continue using the term "Redskins" until a hearing on November 19 to decide whether they have the right not to say a word.
And then the administration did this, as reported by the Student Press Law Center:
Shortly after the initial email, a full-page advertisement was submitted that reads "Neshaminy Redskins, nearly a century of school and community, history pride and tradition, go Skins," McGoldrick said. The advertisement, paid for by an alumnus of the class of 1972, was submitted to the staff by Tom Magdelinskas, the school's vice principal of co-curriculars.
Before we go any further, let me lay this out for you: this is compelled speech. In a country where we've known for 70 years that you can't force students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, Neshaminy High School is trying to force students to say "Redskins."

There's no legal test for this, it's per se unconstitutional. You cannot force students to say things -- and the fact that the school thinks the word "Redskins" is more powerful than the words "under God" suggests to me that, perhaps, the principal has lost perspective on this issue.

Furthermore, forcing students to go to a hearing to defend their right not to use a racial slur is an infringement on those rights. You can't burden a fundamental right by forcing students to jump through hoops to use it.

Forcing students to attend a hearing to defend the right not to say a racial slur is like forcing someone to attend a hearing to determine if she has the right to go out in public with her face uncovered. A school administrator cannot use his total ignorance of basic civil rights as a basis for infringing on the rights of others.

Nor is that ignorance remotely justifiable, considering that the basic legal principle that says you can't force students to say words was last changed during FDR's presidency.

School board President Richie Webb has another, equally goofy rationale for why he expects students to educate him on why they don't have to print racial slurs (this again from the SPLC story):
Webb said he believes the Playwickian editors' decision infringes on the free speech rights of students and advertisers who want to use the term.
"Bottom line is, if people take an editorial class, are we taking away their right to freedom of speech? Are you not allowed to use 'Redskins' even if you want to?" Webb asked.
 This from

At Neshaminy High, an 'eye-opener' for student editors 

Nearly every day at Neshaminy High School, a student ventures to the school newspaper's office with a message that would be thrilling for most publications: He's thinking about buying an ad.

But at the Playwickian, Neshaminy's monthly paper, the message is slightly less welcome.
Because this student's potential offer is focused on one purpose: to see the word Redskin inside the paper.

"It's just funny - until we're forced to publish it," said editor-in-chief Gillian McGoldrick, 16. The paper voted to ban the use of the word, but by the principal's orders, it would have to use it in a paid advertisement.

McGoldrick said that so far she hasn't taken the student seriously, since he hasn't put up any money.
But as Neshaminy pride swells ahead of Saturday's state football playoff between the Redskins and St. Joseph's Prep, editors say their decision generated a different emotional charge in the community.
Fellow students have ripped up the paper and thrown shreds in the air, while others said it should be burned or have refused to read it.

A school board member tweeted "try not to be so sensitive" at a student editor, and parents have taken to Facebook to bemoan the decision.

Last month principal Rob McGee overturned the ban, saying it could violate other students' First Amendment rights. McGee couldn't be reached for comment.

During a Nov. 20 meeting at which students were to discuss that decision, tempers flared as he delivered a PowerPoint presentation and handed out a packet of more than 50 pages about why the ban should not be allowed.

Editors say they love the school and are thrilled by the success of their athletic teams.

But they say the contentiousness surrounding their decision has surprised them, and taught them how adults and students alike can get swept into nasty public debates.

"It's eye-opening, honestly," said Reed Hennessy, 16, the paper's sports editor.

The Playwickian's 21-person editorial board first voted to ban Redskin in October, saying in an unsigned editorial on Oct. 23 that the term was racist.

McGee then ordered the ban put on hold, but some legal experts say his stance is unlikely to hold up in court.

"That's such a frivolous argument, I can't believe they believe it," said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which has been working with the Playwickian to find pro bono legal representation.

LoMonte said that Pennsylvania regulations "firmly put students in charge of editorial decisions," and that school interference is generally limited to prevent messages of defamation or violence.
Native Americans protest before the Vikings-Redskins game

Preventing students from editing out terms like Redskin means "there would never be any editing in a student newspaper," LoMonte said...

McGoldrick said she's not sure what the editors will do if an ad or some other item comes through containing Redskin for the December edition, although nothing is on the horizon so far.

But the filing deadline isn't until next week, she said, and the debate for the last two months has been unpredictable.

Whatever happens, she's proud of how the editors have handled the firestorm so far.

"I would totally do this again," she said. "We really stood up for something that we believe in."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is school law 101. Wonder what kinds of discussions the principal has been having with superintendent and legal counsel.