High School Newspaper Editor, Adviser Suspended for Refusing to Print a Particular Word


"By shortening the word, it's no longer a slur, right?"

Back when I was a high school journalist, we all got in trouble for the things we put in the newspaper, like all good nerdy, opinionated teens are obligated to do. But over at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, the editor of the school newspaper has been suspended from her role for a month and the newspaper's faculty adviser was suspended for two days, all because of what the newspaper decided to leave out.

Now is the point where we explain that Neshaminy High School's mascot is the Redskin. The student editors of the newspaper have decided to stop using the word, largely understood to be a racial slur. The Student Press Law Center provides more information:

Robert Copeland, the superintendent of Neshaminy School District, suspended adviser Tara Huber on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Maddy Buffardi, the newspaper's opinion editor. Huber, who won the Pennsylvania School Press Association's Journalism Teacher of the Year award this year, is an English teacher and adviser to the student newspaper at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne.

Huber's suspension relates to the student editors' effort last school year to remove the word "Redskins" from their newspaper. For The Playwickian's June issue, a student had submitted a letter to the editor that used the word "Redskins" — the school's mascot — several times. The staff replaced all but the first letter with dashes, following The Associated Press style for slurs. In his prior review of the issue, Principal Ron McGee told the students to print the word in full or not print the paper at all.

While student editors discussed what to do about the issue, Huber left the classroom.

"We all decided unanimously that we're going to send the paper to print the way that we feel comfortable sending the paper to print," Buffardi said.

To be clear, they suspended the adviser without pay for this. Apparently leaving the classroom to let the editors decide what to do constituted "neglecting her duties."

Apparently this conflict has been going on for a little while. An attorney with the Student Press Law Center took a dim view of the case in an interview with media site Poynter:

The school board's policy that prevents editors from removing "redskins" in submissions to the newspaper could open up the district to legal action because it imposes an unconstitutional restriction on the students editors' free speech, Adam Goldstein, an attorney for the Student Press Law Center, told Poynter. This rule is particularly egregious, Goldstein said, because it purports to force students to adopt a certain kind of speech. Because of this, Goldstein does not think it can survive legal challenge.

"It may be possible to get dumber people on a school board, but I don't how you go about it," Goldstein said.