By Tim Jimenez
LANGHORNE, Pa. (CBS) – The Neshaminy School Board finally votes tonight on a policy change that prohibits editors of the high school newspaper from completely banning the word “Redskins” in its pages. It is a drawn out dispute that started last October when editors of The Playwickian voted to stop using the word, calling it offensive, even though it has long been the school mascot.
The school board, after months of public meetings and a number of revisions, is voting on changing Policy 600, which covers Neshaminy’s official publications, including The Playwickian, Neshaminy High’s student paper.
“Sadly, we are expecting the worst – that Policy 600 will be passed,” said Gillian McGoldrick, The Playwickian’s editor-in-chief.
The original revisions to the policy would have completely overturned the editors’ decision to ban use of the word “Redskins” in its pages. The latest version, which the board will vote on, tries to find middle ground, according to school officials. It now gives the editors the power to censor what they call “The R Word” in news stories but not in editorials.
“I am very, happily surprised (the school board) came that far that they would allow us to edit it in news stories,” McGoldrick said. “But, I still believe that it’s not the place of the school board to tell us what we can and can’t make as a policy.”
McGoldrick still refers to the policy as “unconstitutional” citing a section of the policy dealing with “Authority of School Officials”
a. The applicable teacher(s)/advisor(s), school principal(s) and
Superintendent shall have the rights and authority to censor or
prohibit any material proposed for publication in the Playwickian
and in the Howler for any of the following reasons:
1) Where for any reasonable reason the material should be
prohibited from publication;
“What is a reasonable reason?” McGoldrick said. “I believe that means the principal can just have a reason to just say, ‘Nope, you can’t print that.’ That really worries me.”
On the other side school board member Stephen Pirritano is a proponent of the policy change.
“We’re confident that this compromise meets the letter of state and federal law,” he said. “A school environment has certain restrictions. It’s not the same as being a full adult in the private sector. We have two opinions stating that everything we’ve done is proper and legal.”
As for the debate over the word?
“I don’t believe that we should be offending anyone with any mascot. A mascot is really supposed to be a figure of what your school’s pride is,” McGoldrick said. “And why would we be wanting to take pride in racism?”
“This is a very traditional district, rooted deeply in their heritage and nobody in the district ever believed “Redskin” was used as a derogatory, defaming term,” Pirritano said. “All the calls I have gotten about it have honestly been – support our heritage and they felt that the kids were taking the wrong position.”
Pirritano said that the only emails he has received in support of the student-editors were from those outside of the district. “None of those organizations are responsible for a school district like we are,” he said.
Pirritano said nothing is set in stone but he personally expects a 9-0 vote to implement the policy. If it passes, McGoldrick said their fight may continue.
“We do have lawyers and there is a possibility of a suit,” she said. Throughout the dispute they have had the backing of the Student Press Law Center.
“School boards and districts are sued all the time,” Pirritano said. “They have a right in this country to disagree with our decision and go through the system and have a neutral arbiter.”