We Stand With Neshaminy

By FHNtoday editorial board

Yesterday, at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania, the newspaper adviser was suspended, without pay, for two days. The reason given was “willful neglect of duty and insubordination,” likely the result of a year-long battle between the

Neshaminyadministration and the Playwickian newspaper staff over the editorial board’s banning of the word “Redskins,” the school’s mascot. The District also docked the staff’s funds by $1,200.

It’s true that because of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case, high school newspapers can be subject to prior review and censorship in some situations. However, there is no way forcing a student newspaper to acknowledge a mascot deemed racially offensive is a justifiable reason to become entangled in decisions that should be left to editors. This next step in a series of disappointing and unnecessary actions taken by the school board is the most shocking yet. An adviser who would not force her students to conform to the District’s ultimatums and demands is now out of the classroom, and a newspaper staff attempting to learn the skills of quality journalism will now be stifled from the cuts to its budget.

Well, it’s a good thing they learned their lesson today. They learned not to take a stand. They learned that they can fight for their beliefs, as long as they don’t get in the way of their superiors. And, best of all, they learned that the First Amendment means less than they thought.

This isn’t really about the Redskins. It’s not about two days or $1,200. It’s not even really about a high school in Pennsylvania. This is about what happens when students are taught to get in line and keep their mouths shut. It’s about what happens next, when these students graduate. We’ll get a generation of crowd followers, who don’t fight to change what they believe is wrong. People will hear the term ‘freedom of the press,’ but it will just be four hollow words. They will remember what happened when they questioned bad judgement, and what happened when they thought they had rights. They’ll believe that they can’t really change anything, that what they think doesn’t really matter.

We work in a school that enjoys full protection of student press rights and freedoms. Newspapers are released with no prior review from administrators. Web content is posted without censorship. We have the privilege of spending every day giving consideration to what students need to know rather than what the District will allow them to know. Believe it or not, the world still turns, and we’re better for it. We learn the importance of responsible coverage, rather than trying to see how many buttons we push. We operate with the same standards as professional journalists, and accept the same accountability for our actions as professionals. We get a true sense of the duties tasked to journalists and never risk our standing with the administration because of our relationship of trust. We’re not soft on the issues; we’ve still covered topics ranging from marijuana to the education crisis to drinking and driving in the past year and sparked thoughtful discussions about real issues that matter to our audience. Because we are entrusted with the task of producing fair, accurate stories, we’ve treated these issues with scrutiny and haven’t had any incidents before or after content was released.

It seems that districts are terrified of what could happen if students experience the freedoms they will have as adults. It could cause national controversy, it could cause bad publicity, it could escalate.

So, they censor.

And it causes national controversy, bad publicity, and it escalates too far. It tramples student freedom for no reason and challenges students to test their boundaries. It makes no sense, and it unnecessarily confines students.

Well, we aren’t going to let that happen. We aren’t going to stand by and think about how privileged we are and what we would hypothetically do if this situation happened here. Just because we have secured press freedom for ourselves doesn’t make us content. The only way for freedom to exist is to fight for it. The second that people begin turning their backs on these situations and start dismissing them as just one school, just one word, or just one principal is the second we give away our rights.

Editors of the Playwickian, we’re thinking about you today and we’re standing with you for the long haul. Keep staying true to your beliefs and keep fighting. If your administrators won’t acknowledge your rights, then the scrutiny of the scholastic press community might. If they won’t change their ways, keep fighting and use your skills as journalists to bring attention to the injustice in Neshaminy. We will fight right alongside you. You have the ear and support of the scholastic press. You are not alone.

Too often censorship is looked at as an absolute, something that cannot be changed. That is not the case. We have to make the difference and take a stand. For Neshaminy, for the nation and for our future. We can’t stand idly by while administrators bully and threaten student publications. Such bullying and petty attempts to force students to change their opinions belong on the elementary school playground, not in high schools, and not from the mouths of administrators.

We stand with Neshaminy. We believe students are more than capable of making their own decisions and we believe in the power of high school students bringing change to their schools. We live in a country where we don’t have to keep our mouths shut. We are the future of the press and this nation, and we won’t be silenced.

For more information regarding the situation in Neshaminy, read the Student Press Law Center’s media release here.