Kentucky high school hold a mock trial for the student paper punished for refusing to print the word 'Redskins'

Corrected, 3/24, 4 pm. The Playwickian is a student paper in Pennsylvania, not Virginia. 

Kentucky high school journalists are staging a mock trial for the real case of a Pennsylvania school district that punished a student newspaper for refusing to print the word “Redskin.”

In 2013, student editors of the Playwickian newspaper at Neshaminy High School decided to ban the school’s mascot name, the Redskins, from publication. The term is a racial slur towards Native Americans, the editors said.

School officials demanded the staff include a letter to the editor that contained the school mascot name in the June 2014 issue — or not print the issue at all. Editors refused to include the letter but still sent the issue to print, resulting in school authorities confiscating half of the copies of distributed to students, deducting $1,200 from the newspaper’s activities fund, suspending adviser Tara Huber without pay for two days and revoking Gilliam McGoldrick’s title of editor-in-chief for one month.

School administrators then reworked the district’s publications policy, saying that editors must submit their paper to the principal 10 days in advance of publication for prior review, instead of the former three-day requirement. The policy also said student editors were not allowed to bar the word Redskins from the opinion pages, and the newspaper’s adviser has the power to select and edit the letters to the editor. The policy granted student journalists the right to remove the word Redskins in the news sections, subject to the principal’s approval. It also says that administrators can censor any content if they have “any reasonable reason.”

James Miller’s journalism classes at duPont Manual Magnet High School in Louisville, Kentucky split into sides representing the student journalists and the school district, using an archive of documents about the case.

When the mock trial discussion turned to the school board’s publication policy, Playwickian adviser Tara Huber tweeted back that “Policy 600 violates students rights” and “conflicts with PA code.” Pennsylvania code guarantees students the right to free expression, including in school-funded newspapers. The code stipulates that school officials may not censor material simply because it is critical of the school or administration.

The attorneys in the mock trial also called “philosophy experts” to the stand.

Two ninth grade journalism classes are conducting separate sections of the mock trial, Miller said on Twitter. The trials will start each day at 9:15 EST and last until about 10:45 EST for the next several days — Miller will be livetweeting with the hashtags #mcgvmcg1 and #mcgvmcg2.

For journalism advisers who are considering staging a mock trial of their own, the SPLC has compiled a list of case files of some of our most extreme censorship cases in recent years (including one at Miller’s own high school, where students launched an independent newspaper after being forbidden from discussing homosexuality in a school-sponsored publication).