Pennsylvania school does not have right to force newspaper to print mascot’s name

Editors of The Playwickian, the student newspaper of Neshaminy High School in Bucks County, Pa., have sparked controversy after deciding to ban references to their school’s mascot, the “Redskin” from their publication.

In a decision supported by a two-thirds vote within the editorial board, the newspaper decided to avoid writing “Redskin” in any future story that it prints because of the word’s racist implications toward Native Americans.

According to the Editor-in-Chief of The Playwickian, Gillian McGoldrick, the few staff members who voted against the policy did so because they didn’t find the word offensive.
“[Those who didn’t vote for it] believed that it was a term of honor for Native Americans,” McGoldrick said. “It was honoring them, not hurting them.”

However, McGoldrick noted that “there is no one on the [editorial] board of Native American descent” and that overall, a majority of the staff stood for banning the word.

The high school’s principal challenged the decision, arguing that the newspaper must print what a staff writer writes in its entirety. The staff protested and the ban was addressed at a Neshaminy School District board meeting, where board members joined the principal in opposing the decision, going so far as to consider “reverse censorship,” or forcing the publication to use the word.

“[A group in the school board] is claiming that we are infringing on the first amendment rights of our staff writers or anyone else that wants to use the term in their writing,” McGoldrick said. “They think it changes the whole meaning of an entire article by removing that one word.”

A decision on the ban was supposed to be released on May 21, but was pushed back to the Board Policy Committee for further negotiation.

The Pennsylvania Code section 12.9 says that “Students have a right and are as free as editors of other newspapers to report the news and to editorialize.” Another part of the Code states that newspapers are allowed to form policy regarding what they print. The Playwickian editorial board, as well as The Campanile editorial board, believes permissions granted by the Code provide clear justification and defense of the paper’s decision to ban the word.

The Campanile supports The Playwickian’s continued efforts to exercise their prerogative, and believes that any negotiations should result in a full validation of the right of a newspaper to make a policy on what they print. Censorship in any form on the part of school administration infringes on the rights of student journalists. As a fellow high school newspaper, The Campanile supports the decisions made by the staff of The Playwickian, believing they are protected and should not be up for debate by School Board officials. Additionally, The Campanile applauds The Playwickian staff for their efforts in challenging an outdated term that possesses racist undertones and for demonstrating resilience and commitment to its cause, even in the face of backlash.