Playwickian adviser, student editor receive nationwide support following suspensions

PENNSYLVANIA — When news broke that The Playwickian’s adviser and student editor were suspended amid an ongoing battle with high school administrators over the use of the word “Redskins,” student journalists and educators across the country mobilized.

Along with editorials in high school papers in California and Missouri, and a silent show of solidarity at a high school in Texas, student editors in California have raised more than $1,100 in 24 hours to support the student newspaper at Neshaminy High School and its adviser.

The Indiegogo campaign that Ventura, Calif. student editors started Wednesday afternoon intends to replace the $1,200 Neshaminy administrators reportedly deducted from the newspaper’s student activities fund.

In October, student editors at The Playwickian banned the work “Redskins” — the school’s mascot — from their pages because of its use as a racial slur, despite administrative demands to allow it. In response, the newspaper’s adviser, Tara Huber, received a two-day suspension without pay this week for allowing students to remove the word. Additionally, Gillian McGoldrick, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief received a one-month suspension from her position, though she still remain on staff.

Having received nationwide support and coverage from national news organizations, the student editors at The Playwickian are still discussing how to proceed, said Gayle Sproul, a Philadelphia-based attorney doing pro bono work for the students.

The newspaper staff, The Playwickian co-editor-in-chief Reed Hennessy said, will “maintain a level of professionalism that we’ve maintained thus far, and do what we think is best.”

McGoldrick said they are in “wait-and-see mode” to see “how the policy is really working for us.”

When The Foothill Dragon Press’ adviser, Melissa Wantz, heard outrage from several members of the Journalism Education Association, she said she thought the editors at The Dragon Press would want to get involved. After talking about the issue with student editors, they decided to launch the fundraising campaign.

In May, staff at the online-only publication at Foothill Technical High School wrote an editorial in support of The Playwickian staff.

Canela Lopez, editor-in-chief of The Dragon Press, said they wanted to “go a step further” in supporting The Playwickian editors’ First Amendment rights.

Wantz said that even if people don’t agree that “Redskins” is a racist term, there is “something unjust about not allowing students to determine what is offensive and being sort of forced by a government agency to publish something they find is offensive.”

Keith Olbermann, the sports and political commentator for ESPN2, also criticized Neshaminy High School administrators for refusing to allow The Playwickian editors to determine what is in their paper, calling the leaders of the district “dolts” on his talk-show segment, “Worst Persons in the Sports World.”

High school journalists in Camarillo, Calif., also wrote an editorial that called the district’s actions “an assault on the First Amendment.” In Texas, James Bowie High School’s newspaper class showed their support on Twitter with a photo of students wearing black armbands that said “2 days” in reference to the suspension, a replica of armbands that the Neshaminy students also wore.

McGoldrick said The Playwickian staffers were going to Skype with the staff at The Foothill Dragon Press to express their gratitude.

SPLC staff writer Anna Schiffbauer can be reached by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.