By Tim Jimenez
LANGHORNE, Pa. (CBS) – It got heated at times Tuesday night in Langhorne during a Neshaminy School Board meeting. They were discussing a proposed policy change that reverses the decision by editors of the high school newspaper to ban the term “Redskins” – the school mascot, in its publication. The board decided to hold off on voting on the policy after the district superintendent said he would meet with the students face-to-face.
The outcome of this meeting was a pause in what has been a contentious debate. Superintendent Robert Copeland said he’ll meet with editors of the Neshaminy High paper The Playwickian and they’ll discuss the updates to Policy 600 – a controversial proposal which would, among other things, reverse the “Redskins” ban that the editors of the paper voted on earlier in the school year. In past meetings the school board delayed voting on the policy while getting more feedback from the community. Tuesday night, the board then decided to table the proposal until after Mr. Copeland and the students meet.
“I really hope to go through (the policy) line-by-line and discuss all of our grievances we have with it,” said Gilllian McGoldrick, Editor-In-Chief of The Playwickian. “We’ll be able to really listen to each other.”
Editor Jackson Haines expressed optimism there could be a compromise after meeting, not in a boardroom with limited time to speak, but while sitting down next to Mr. Copeland and other administrators.
“I’m glad we can have a more private discussion where we have no restraints, no limitations and just talk about it in a civilized, professional manner,” he said. “We want to get this issue resolved.”
McGoldrick and others argue “Redskins” is offensive and the policy would take away their rights as journalists. In October, the editorial board published “Why We Won’t Publish the R-Word” explaining the board’s 2/3 vote to ban use of the word. But board members like Stephen Pirritano say, while he appreciates the students’ passion about this issue, their school mascot isn’t meant to offend.
“If a student wants to write about how they feel about being recognized as a “Neshaminy Redskin” – no other student should be able to edit those words. If it’s used in a derogatory manner, condemning a race or a people, that’s a different story,” he said. “I believe, as almost all of my contacts, that the way “Redskins” has been presented in Neshaminy is in a totally honorable and prideful manner.”
Pirritano also cited the importance of revising Policy 600 as it stands. It was originally instituted in 1967 and the revisions would deal with, not just publications like The Playwickian, but also includes specifics on proper teacher-student correspondence through email and social media. Board attorney Mike Levin called the case “black and white” arguing the board had every right to institute such policy changes because the paper is an extracurricular activity taking place on school district property and funded by taxpayers.
Haines, who said they jokingly refer to the policy as “The Intolerable Acts”, believes the outcome of this debate will have serious consequences for future student-journalists.
“I don’t think it’s fair to have any of the journalists who want to be on The Playwickian to have – not a real experience (but) a restrictive experience, and an unconstitutional experience. It’s not fair for them, it’s not fair for us. But I think we’re on our way to compromise,” he said.
It’s unclear when the meeting between Mr. Copeland and the editors will happen or when the board will decide to vote. However, for now the policy is on hold and the “Redskins” ban is in effect.