School of­fi­cial de­fends Red­skins nick­name

Five-day hear­ing ends for Neshaminy; rul­ing won’t be for months.

The Morning Call - - STATE/REGION - By Chris English

A high-level Neshaminy School District ad­min­is­tra­tor said Fri­day he didn't think the Red­skins nick­name for the school district's sports teams was a racial slur “in the con­text of Neshaminy Red­skins.”

Tes­ti­fy­ing at a Penn­syl­va­nia Hu­man Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion hear­ing at Bucks County Com­mu­nity Col­lege in New­town Town­ship, Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion Direc­tor Robert McGee was one of sev­eral wit­nesses who spoke on the last day of the pub­lic hear­ings.

“Is it a racial slur in a gen­eral sense?” a PHRC at­tor­ney asked McGee.

“I don't think I've de­cided yet,” he re­sponded.

The PHRC filed a law­suit in 2015 over the name and is seek­ing to force Neshaminy to change it.

While Fri­day marked the end of five days of pub­lic hear­ings on the mat­ter, a com­mis­sion rul­ing will not come for sev­eral more months, hear­ing ex­am­iner Carl Sum­mer­son said.

The two sides need to take sev­eral more de­po­si­tions and then have un­til July 1 to file le­gal briefs.

Sum­mer­son said that he will make a rec­om­men­da­tion but that the de­ci­sion would come from the en­tire 11-mem­ber com­mis­sion.

McGee was the prin­ci­pal at Neshaminy High School when sev­eral events adding to the con­tro­versy over the nick­name un­folded, in­clud­ing a law­suit filed with the PHRC by res­i­dent Donna Boyle, which later was dropped, and the com­mis­sion law­suit two years later.

The stu­dent news­pa­per The Play­wick­ian pub­lished edi­to­ri­als op­pos­ing the con­tin­ued use of the Red­skins nick­name and sought to have it banned from the pub­li­ca­tion. The school district even­tu­ally ap­proved a pol­icy that the name can be heav­ily redacted from sto­ries but must be printed in full in let­ters and opin­ion pieces sub­mit­ted to The Play­wick­ian.

For­mer stu­dent and Play­wick­ian staff mem­ber Jes­sica McClel­land tes­ti­fied Fri­day that she was very upset when the ed­i­to­rial board voted to redact Redskin from an ar­ti­cle she had writ­ten in 2016 about the Mr. Redskin pageant, an an­nual fundraiser at the school.

McClel­land said she felt the name should have ap­peared in its en­tirety but was out­voted 8-1 by the rest of the ed­i­to­rial staff. She said she was the vic­tim of bul­ly­ing through social me­dia and also from other Play­wick­ian ed­i­tors be­cause of her stand on the story.

“That didn't sit well with me,” she tes­ti­fied. “I felt my free­dom of speech and press rights were be­ing vi­o­lated.”

The redac­tion was done with­out the re­quired clear­ance from ad­min­is­tra­tion, McGee said Fri­day dur­ing a break in the hear­ing. McClel­land re­signed from the news­pa­per over the mat­ter, she tes­ti­fied.

School board mem­ber Steve Pir­ri­tano tes­ti­fied Fri­day that the “com­mu­nity over­whelm­ingly sup­ports the name” and that he didn't re­gard it as a racial slur.

“It's about our her­itage and cul­ture,” he said. “It's in­grained al­most ev­ery­where you go in Neshaminy.”

Pir­ri­tano said he lis­tened closely to op­pos­ing view­points, in­clud­ing those from Play­wick­ian staffers, and re­spected them but that it didn't change his own view.

He added that he strongly sup­ported the pol­icy of al­low­ing Redskin in sub­mit­ted pieces, in­clud­ing from stu­dents who are not Play­wick­ian staffers.

“In a school en­vi­ron­ment, you have to pro­tect all the kids,” Pir­ri­tano said. “I'm not go­ing to sup­port poli­cies that dis­crim­i­nate against other kids.”

District res­i­dent Shayn Spin­gler, the mother of a senior and a re­cent grad­u­ate, tes­ti­fied that her chil­dren had al­ways taken pride in the Red­skins nick­name and that none of them re­garded it as a racial slur.

Heather Kra­jcer, a school coun­selor at Neshaminy High School the last 20 years, tes­ti­fied she has never had a stu­dent come to her say­ing they were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing harm as a re­sult of the nick­name.

High school tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing ed­u­ca­tion teacher Robert Wood, who said he iden­ti­fies as Na­tive Amer­i­can and is one-eighth Chippewa, tes­ti­fied that he doesn't re­gard the nick­name as racist or of­fen­sive.

At sev­eral points dur­ing the series of hear­ings, wit­nesses have ques­tioned lan­guage in the school district pol­icy on pub­li­ca­tions that can be per­ceived as telling peo­ple what they should think about the nick­name.

“The term Red­skins when re­fer­ring to the school district mascot and when used to ex­press the writer's view­point about the term shall not be con­strued as a racial or eth­nic slur and is not in­tended by the board of school di­rec­tors as a racial or eth­nic slur,” that por­tion of the pol­icy reads.

MATT ROURKE/AP

Neshaminy High School's nick­name, Red­skins, has been at the root of a law­suit and the five-day hear­ing be­fore the Penn­syl­va­nia Hu­man Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion that ended Fri­day.

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