At Tuesday night's Neshaminy School Board meeting, superintendent Robert Copeland delivered a statement about the dispute over whether the student editors of the Playwickian can enforce a ban on the word Redskin in the school newspaper.
In it, he confirmed that Neshaminy High School Rob McGee had confiscated copies of the Playwickian last week after the student editors printed the paper without approval, and said the confiscation was proper given the circumstances. Copeland, who praised the students passion and maturity, also said district administrators expect "respect for school district authority and the rules that govern," and that the students' decision to print the paper is being investigated.
The editors of the paper unanimously agreed to send the school year's final edition to the printer, according to editor-in-chief Gillian McGoldrick, because McGee had told the students the issue would only be approved if they reversed their decision to edit the word Redskin out of an op-ed that had been submitted by another student. The editors responded by removing the op-ed altogether, replacing it with a note explaining the situation, and sending the issue to print, McGoldrick said.
When the papers were distributed last week, McGoldrick said, McGee confiscated copies.
McGee said last week he could not comment on matters concerning the Playwickian.
Copeland's full remarks from Tuesday's meeting are below:
Over the last several months the Policy Committee has been wrestling with the issue of student publications and how best to balance a newspaper and journalism learning experience with the rights of students with differing views.
Anyone who thinks this an easy task hasn’t tried it. The editors of the Playwickian took a principled stance and felt the use of the word ‘Redskin’ was a racial slur and thus would not be used in their publication. They wanted the word banned not only from the news articles written by their staff, but also banned from editorials written by fellow students, regardless of the context in which it was being used and regardless of whether it was used as a slur or, for example, to refer to the High School mascot.
Both Mr. Levin and Mr. Profy have advised the board that the district could not stand by idly and allow the first amendment rights of one student be abridged to satisfy the stated objections of another group of students. It must be remembered, restated and emphasized that the student newspaper does not operate solely as an afterschool club. The journalism class and the curriculum link the club with the class. Also, “Redskin” is the name of the school mascot.
In an attempt to respect the dialog that had emerged from the policy committee meetings the administration with the Board Policy Committee’s agreed to have a discussion with the editors to try and come to some common ground. I attended that meeting and I continued to be impressed with the student editors, passion and maturity. In fact it was at that meeting that the administration offered the students the opportunity to enact their ban on articles within the news coverage but not on the letters page and in opinion pieces. We also pointed out that after the editorial opinion was rendered the Playwickian published a cartoon depicting the principal wearing a sweat shirt with the word ‘redskin’ emblazoned on the shirt. How can you allow the word when you use it to put your point across but ban it when others offer a different opinion? One editor said that they couldn’t alter someone’s art. That is exactly the point I was trying to make.
At any rate the meeting ended with the advisor saying the students needed to caucus. It was made clear that no authorization was granted to print the paper without the unabridged letter from the student who used the word “Redskin’.
We are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the entire situation and while we will not comment on that investigation let me make two points. First, Dr. McGee’s initial collection of about 40 issues was made because he was uncertain as to what was printed since no prior approval was given. What some have called an overreaction I would call prudence. Secondly, while we applaud students who stand up for something we also expect a respect for school district authority and the rules that govern. This is especially true when so much time and patience was afforded by the Board and Administration to the process.
Finally, let me reach back into my distant past as a history teacher. It seems to me that the lessons I wanted my students to learn about the first amendment was how critical it is to our freedom and that the first amendment guarantees free speech not just popular speech.