Philadelphia Students and School Administrators Clash Over Redskins Name

PHOTO: In this Dec. 8, 2001 file photo, Neshaminy quarterback Jason Waiter, center, celebrates with teammates after their 21-7 victory over Woodland Hills to claim the Class AAAA state title in Hershey, Pa.

Student editors of a high school paper in Philadelphia are engaged in a war of words with administrators over the use of the school's team nickname, the Redskins.

The debate over free speech began after student editors at the Neshaminy Playwickian wrote an editorial on Oct. 27 on "why we refuse to use the 'R' word" -- a topic they claim "no one wants to discuss, but one that needs to be discussed" because of its offensiveness to American Indians.

"It is one of the most controversial issues in Neshaminy's history," began the editorial. "The word 'Redskin' is racist, and very much so. It is not a term of honor, but a term of hate."

The move comes as the D.C. Council made an appeal to the Washington Redskins to change their nickname for the second time in history, which was backed by hundreds of American Indians who protested the NFL team's nickname last week.

"Detractors will argue that the word is used with all due respect," read the editorial, which was supported by 14 of 21 members of the paper's staff. "But the offensiveness of a word cannot be judged by its intended meaning, but by how it is received."

Numerous editors of the Playwickian had talked about banning the use of "Redskins" since 2001. Some had avoided it, but others weren't quite so circumspect.

"We have been debating this, but now that it's taking flight we're like, 'We definitely need to take a stand,'" one of the paper's editors, 15-year-old Eishna Ranganathan, told ABC News Radio. "In previous years we have definitely brought it up."

For their efforts, the editors received a summons from Principal Robert McGee who praised their efforts as "valiant," but ordered they reverse the decision, students said.

McGee told The Associated Press he believes the alleged harm of using the word is debatable and that the roughly 2,600 students at the school, who are each required to write an article for Playwickian for course credit, shouldn't be precluded from writing about the Neshaminy Redskins.

"I don't think that's been decided at the national level, whether that word is or is not (offensive). It's our school mascot," he said. "I see it as a First Amendment issue running into another First Amendment issue."

The student law center and American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania see it differently.

"I understand that there's an inclination to want to protect a tradition at the school. But the First Amendment is a longer and a better-established tradition," Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., told the AP.

"It's exactly what we tell young people in the abstract we want them to do: use their voices in positive ways to bring about social change. And yet when they tried to do it in practice, the school slapped them down," he said. "That's a bad place for an educator to be.

McGee said he has spoken with the school solicitor and others on the issue, while students will also be getting together with their own lawyer when they return to school on Monday.

Meanwhile, Ranganathan said the decision is actually having a positive effect at her school.

"What I've been actually finding out, a lot of people now they're actually saying they want to become more educated on this issue," she said.

The AP and ABC News Radio contributed to this report.

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