High school journalists in Pa. punished for refusal to print the word “Redskins;” SPLC joins journalists in protracted struggle against retaliation, censorship

Neshaminy High School (2013)

Langhorne, Pa.

When the high school newspaper staff announced they would no longer print the name of the school’s mascot, the Redskins, administrators set a policy of prior review.

“When I first came across the Student Press Law Center my junior year of high school, scared and unsure of the intimidation tactics my administration was using on me, I wasn’t just met with a people with a little understanding of the law. The very second they answered my call, they provided me with code after case law after code, and even helped my staff and I get legal assistance within the first couple of weeks of speaking with them. The staff from the SPLC reached out frequently to ensure my staff and I were assured we were doing the right thing and made it clear that they weren’t just doing it as a job, but rather they cared so wholly about our rights as students and that we had our voice heard. When things got their hardest and I was removed from my position as editor-in-chief of the Playwickian, the SPLC rounded up 20 news organizations to support me and my adviser. Although the issue was not resolved by the time of my graduation, I know that they will be there for the current students if an issue ever arises again. The Student Press Law Center is a shield of justice that empowers students to stand up against their administration’s inequities — and I am one of the students that it empowered.”

— Gillian McGoldrick, then-editor-in-chief of the Playwickian

The trigger

Editors of Neshaminy High School’s student newspaper, The Playwickian, decided in 2013 to ban the school’s mascot name, the Redskins, from publication on the grounds that it was a racist term.

The school’s reaction

Administrators imposed prior review on the newspaper, demanding that the staff include a letter to the editor containing the mascot name in the June 2014 issue, or not print the issue at all. Editors fought back and printed the issue without the letter. As a result, several copies of the issue were confiscated by school authorities, who also deducted $1,200 from the newspaper’s activities fund, suspended adviser Tara Huber without pay for two days and revoked the title of editor-in-chief Gillian McGoldrick for one month. The district school board enacted a new publications policy stripping student journalists of all legally protected rights, including ownership of their work.

Fighting back

After publishing the June 2014 issue without administrator approval, the Playwickian editors raised more than $8,000 through two Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns to reimburse their adviser for her pay loss, replenish the activities fund and pay for legal fees and attendance at an award ceremony, and, later, to fund issues affected by deep budget cuts, which many editors believe are a punitive measure. The Student Press Law Center and the Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Commission publicly condemned the school district’s “retaliatory and illegal actions.” Playwickian staff received representation through the Student Press Law Center attorney network.

End result

The battle over the issue is ongoing, and editors will meet with the school board in December 2015. The editors and their adviser have won several journalism awards for their courageous stand against censorship, including the Student Press Law Center’s 2014 Courage in Student Journalism Award and the 2015 Native American Journalists Association Elias Boudinot Free Press Award.

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