School official defends Redskins nickname
Five-day hearing ends for Neshaminy; ruling won’t be for months.
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.
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.