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Can students ban a word from the school newspaper?

Sept. 3, 2014

By Lauren Hawkins, Student Voices staff writer

For every fearsome school mascot like the Tigers or the Spartans, there is a school with a slightly less traditional mascot, like the New Braunfels Unicorns or the Tillamook Cheesemakers. As much as students in New Braunfels or Tillamook might like to change their mascots to inspire a little less laughter and a little more fear, there usually isn’t much they can do. In fact, you might eventually get used to being a Cheesemaker, but what would you do if your school’s mascot was offensive to you or to people in your community?

Student editors at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania confronted that situation when they resolved to ban use of their mascot name, the Redskins, from the school newspaper last year. The students acted after parent Donna Fann-Boyle, who is part Choctaw and part Cherokee, asked school directors to change the mascot.

On a national level, a number of First Nation tribes and advocacy groups have long protested the NFL’s Washington Redskins’ name because of its history of use as a slur against Native Americans. In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration, saying the team’s name and logo are disparaging. (The actual origin of the word “redskin” is still a contentious issue, but many people nevertheless find the word derogatory.) However, some argue that using the word for team names is meant to honor the nation’s earliest inhabitants.

In October 2013, 14 members of the editorial board of the Neshaminy student newspaper, the Playwickian, voted to print the name only as “R_______,” as pejoratives are often written in professional publications. The students’ actions prompted resistance from school authorities, who expressed concern that the ban might infringe on other students’ right to free speech. Principal Robert McGee told USA Today, “I see it as a First Amendment issue running into another First Amendment issue.” The school board eventually decided to change the editorial policy to protect use of the word in editorials submitted by contributors and letters to the editor, but to permit the ban in the rest of the newspaper. The new policy also set guidelines for approval of issues of the paper, including a provision allowing school administrators to edit the paper for any “reasonable reason.”

“Regardless of what you think about the word ‘Redskin,’ and regardless of what you think about the policy, this policy is taking an entire education opportunity away from students,” Playwickian sports editor Reed Hennessy told NPR. “It’s saying, you can’t have this discussion, you can’t do this research because it ultimately does not matter what you think. It’s like telling us that we can’t discuss our thoughts on everything from gun rights to perhaps a piece of legislation that's come up even locally.”

The school district’s attorney, Michael Levin, argues that the school newspaper is a curriculum-related activity. “The school district controls the curriculum, and the school controls how the curriculum is implemented,” he said. “It’s a school district newspaper; it’s not the kids’ newspaper.”

The editors of the Playwickian have said that they plan to fight the school board’s decision.

The Constitutional Issue

Usually in student press freedom cases, school officials are trying to remove content from student publications, not trying to force a student newspaper to use a word.

Two landmark Supreme Court cases on student First Amendment rights arise in the Neshaminy debate. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the court said in 1967 that students “don’t shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech” at school as long as the speech doesn’t disrupt the school. But later, in the 1988 case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the court limited those rights regarding student newspapers, saying a principal was allowed to exercise editorial control over the school newspaper when the speech is inconsistent with the school’s educational mission.

What do you think?

Should the students or the school administration control the content of the newspaper? Is the ban an infringement on the free speech right of contributors to the newspaper? Does the school board have the right to limit the ban to certain newspaper content? Join the discussion!

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Comments
9/16/2014
covington/ louisiana
kadie
Coach Pennington/ covington high school
I think they should control the content of the newspaper but in this situation its a bit absurd. not everyone has an Indian heritage and if she didn't like it she shouldn't have sent her son to the school.

9/2/2014
Irving/Texas
Rachel
Ms. Bradley/Nimitz
The students are the ones who are in creative control of the newspaper. They write the content that gets published, and should, in theory, be the ones to control the nature of that content (because they wrote it, and also because “Freedom of the press” is a constitutional right.) There are, however, a few reasons why the school should have some control over what is published, despite it being a government entity and despite the students being the ones who do all the work for the paper. Firstly, it’s a newspaper for the school, and so it follows that those who run the school have some say in what is in the publication. Secondly, the students are just that: students. They are young and, while it may not be the case in this specific incident, the administrators are right to be vigilant about what is published at the risk of something inappropriate being released.

9/2/2014
Irving TX
Gabriel M
Ms.Bradley Nimitz High School
I believe that students should be able to control what is in the newspaper because it’s a student paper. I think that if the students believe a word should be banned that it should be allowed because the students reflect who their audience is and they don’t want to offend the audience. There should be sensory from the school, but there should not be things forced into the news paper by administrators. I think that instead the school should applaud the students for being responsible and censoring what they write and not make them write something they think is wrong.

9/1/2014
Irving/Tx
Jocelyn
Ms.Bradley/Nimitz
Considering how the school administration gave the students the privilege to have a school newspaper, the school administration has the right to control it, or at least to overlook it to some extent. But the fact that the students are the ones who are running the newspaper regularly means that they should have the right to express their own opinions too, especially if it has to do with correcting a wrong within the school’s derogatory name against Native Americans. Haven’t we put them through enough? Besides that, if the school board prohibits the students to ban that name then it will be an infringement on the free speech right of the students. The school board has all the right to limit the ban, since they are the ones in charge of the school and all of its clubs, but what type of good will come out of leaving an offensive word in the newspaper? It’ll just end up making the school board look bad.

9/1/2014
Irving TX
Katherine W
Ms. Bradley Nimitz High School
I believe that the students and administration should come to a compromise and allow other students, along with members of the community to vote on the issue. After all, our nation was founded on the principle of the general public having a say in how the government is ran. However, these students must have been put in the position to write this newspaper for a reason. If they were not capable of having the maturity and discrepancy to write this newspaper then they wouldn't have been given the opportunity in the first place. In addition, the students should be able to provide censorship of a word that has the possibility to be offensive to a large group of people.

9/1/2014
Irving/Texas
Peyton
Bradley/Nimitz
I think that students should be held responsible for what goes in the school newspaper because the whole purpose of a school newspaper is to keep students involved and up to date about the affairs going on that are associated with the students and their activities. I believe that the school administrators should have the right to voice their opinions on any concern they may have about the content of the newspapers, but when it comes down to it, the students should be able to completely voice their thoughts in the paper without feeling restricted. As long as the content of the paper is appropriate and respectful to the school, the students should have complete say of what is included in it. The student body should be allowed to stand up and voice their feelings on certain topics without feeling forced to include or not include certain terms or words.

9/1/2014
Irving/Tx
Luke
Bradley/Nimitz
If banning a word is how the students are helping Donna Fann-Boyle protest the name of the mascot, then they should be protected by the first amendment. They are not being inconsistent with the school's educational mission. The intended meaning of "R_____" and "Redskin" is the same, so it is not infringing on the free speech right of contributors to the newspaper. The school should have control over the content of the newspaper, but only when it's about something that should not be included in the newspaper.

8/31/2014
Irving Tx
Alejandro
Ms. Bradley Nimitz High School
I believe that while the school district controls the curriculum, it does not necessarily control the newspaper. As a general rule, the job of the school and the district is to act as a supervisor, ensuring that both the views of the students and the views of the newspaper are upheld. In most cases this would involve preventing the use of material deemed inappropriate and disruptive towards the school, at which point the First Amendment would not provide protection. However, in this case, the school district is trying to enforce the usage of material deemed unfit by the students themselves. By forcing the students to use the word the school is infringing upon their First Amendment rights, albeit by an addition of speech rather than a limitation. And as the Tinker v. Des Moines case made evident, the student's right to free speech doesn't vanish when they go from national citizen to a citizen of their school.

8/30/2014
Irving,TX
Juby
Ms.Bradley/Nimitz High School
I believe that school is for students and therefore,they do have the right to know and say suggestions about the decisions taken.As a student they do have right over the content of the newspaper but as a school administration,the school is responsible to make the students know about what is wrong and right.According to the first amendment of constitution,it is an infringement on the free speech right of contributors to the newspaper.And I agree that the school board have the right to limit the ban to certain newspaper content.

8/29/2014
Irving/Texas
Kierria S.
Ms.Bradley/ Nimitz High School
Many times, people will disagree with what is said and how it's said. In this case the word Redskins is what being questioned. Even though the students should have right to decide on subjects and words in the newspaper, the school needs to have the final say for what's expressed in the school's paper. This is necessary to make sure that students won't take advantage of media just because they're simply allowed to. If a person is given control that interferes with others thoughts and beliefs, then it is best to take precaution and discuss how things can be run for the future.

8/29/2014
Irving/Texas
Kierria S.
Ms.Bradley/ Nimitz High School
Many times, people will disagree with what is said and how it's said. In this case the word Redskins is what being questioned. Even though the students should have right to decide on subjects and words in the newspaper, the school needs to have the final say for what's expressed in the school's paper. This is necessary to make sure that students won't take advantage of media just because they're simply allowed to. If a person is given control that interferes with others thoughts and beliefs, then it is best to take precaution and discuss how things can be run for the future.

8/29/2014
Irving/Tx
Vanessa
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that although the students have limited control of the school newspaper, the school board should be responsible for what is put on it. Even though the first amendment establishes freedom of speech, each action has a consequence. The school board should have limited rights ban to certain content. The students are what makes up a good portion of the school and know what is going on, so I believe both the school board AND the students have an equal amount of responsibility to what is being published in the school paper.

8/29/2014
Murrieta CA
Raquell
Mr.Jabro/ Creekside High school
I believe that the students should control the content of the school newspaper. Students that attend the school know whats going on during a day to day basis and knows what should and should not be put into the newspaper. The students could also make the newspaper more interesting for all the students to read. Banning words that are not even offensive langue is a infringement of the freedom or speech law we have here in the United States. The word "redskins" is not bad language, however if it were a curse word then yes by all means ban it! I do believe however that the school board has every right to ban certain newspaper content.

8/29/2014
Irving/TX
Briana
Ms.Bradley
The students should not ban the word but rather not use the word if they find it offensive. If the students ban the word they will be denying others students right of freedom of speech. By banning the word they would be violating others’ students right to the first amendment. However, it is student newspaper therefore the administration should not dictate what goes in the newspaper.

8/29/2014
Irving/Texas
Flor
Bradley/Nimitz
The students of the school newspaper should have the right to take out a word that is portrayed as offensive now a days. It is not the fault of the students that the name of their school mascot, their pride, joy, and spirit of the school, is connected to vulgarity and derogatory language because of ignorant people. The students aren’t taking all of the charge for what goes on in the newspaper at school, because there are still restrictions put on to what the students can and can’t do, since the level of maturity and intelligence obviously hasn’t matured enough yet to let them make their own decisions. But in a case where they are banning the word “redskins” , even if it is their mascot, it is showing some sort of sympathy the students have, and maturity level, or concern, that they want to take it out because it is offensive to the public reading it. There is a reason why it’s the school’s newspaper, and they have students running it. If the school wanted to avoid this sort of situation in the first place, they should have made it be run by the faculty, and not have any risks. So they just have to “suck it up” and deal with what the students think. After all, if anybody knows about what slang and word choice lurks in the hallways and what should and shouldn't be put in the newspaper for the fear of a double meaning, it would be the students.

8/29/2014
Irving/Texas
Tyler R.
Ms. Bradley/Nimitz High School
While the administration and the school board do have the authority granted to them by the public to administer and govern the inner workings of the school system, if the students find something offensive or would rather not publish a specific word like “Redskins” in a school newspaper there is no justice in forcing them to publish that word. Regardless of whether or not the school mascot is the Redskins, if the students have no desire to stir up public unrest then perhaps it’s time to change the school mascot. Any way that you slice the pie you cannot force someone to say something or someone to read something they don’t want to read. As an American citizen, my first amendment rights stop where someone else’s first amendment rights begin. If it is the students desire to not print the word then they simply do not have to print it.

8/29/2014
Irving, TX
Mark
Bradley/ Nimitz
Although I believe that the school administration should put restrictions on what the students can put within the news paper, they have no right telling them what students should include in it. Not only do the students have the right to be able to speak their thoughts through the newspaper which they are in charge of, they should also be able to exclude words or phrases which make them uncomfortable. Banning a word from a school newspaper is one thing; enforcing the use of a word is something completely different. The school administration needs to realize that while they have the final say in what should or should not be included in the paper, they cannot force the students, who have rights themselves, to include these words.

8/29/2014
Irving TX
Alex R
Ms.Bradley Nimitz High School
I believe that the students that make the school newspaper should control the content of what goes in the newspaper with the discrepancy of the teacher that runs the class. Its the schools newspaper not the administration's newspaper. And according to our constitution this does put a free speech infringement on the students writing the newspaper. The school board does have the right to put a ban on the content, but it should be on profanity and things to that nature, not a simple word used to describe something.

8/29/2014
Irving/Tx
Hannah
Bradley/Nimitz
Yes they can. If a newspaper is run by the students and is for the students then they have the right to ban a word that they find offensive. And in the case of the Neshaminy student newspaper, the students chose to treat the offensive word as they would any other word that would need to be censored and it’s not like they are not allowing the word at all, just censoring it to avoid offending the people who receive the paper. This is not a violation of the 1st Amendment because this is the students decision and the censorship is not being forced upon the students.

8/29/2014
Murrieta,Ca
Elena
Mr.Jabro/Creekside Highschool
I agree with Marilynn from Irving,TX this school board has control over their content and what should be tolerated at their school. The board wants to be represented in a good way, and not seen as a board that allows each and every one of their schools different privileges. It wouldn't be fair, so I think that what they are doing is tolerable and shouldn't be viewed as stripping students of their freedom as U.S citizens

8/29/2014
Irving/TX
Marilynn
Ms.Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the school board is responsible for the content of the newspaper, therefore they have the right to decide what can and what cannot be written in their newspaper.If the students do not agree, they can resign their position or start their own newspaper .No one is denying their freedom of the press, the board is simply saying that if you're going to write for them, then you must follow their guidelines and final requests .The school administrators should control the content because they understand that it represents the entire school and not just a few students.

8/29/2014
Irving/Texas
Carlos
Ms.Bradley/Chester W. Nimitz
I would agree with the school's mascot, if and only if it didn't label and offend a group of people. I would agree with the "Red Skins" representing my school, but then I would be ignorant for not understanding the pain the Native American's suffered. Yes the constitution allows this in the first amendment, but there should be a line drawn toward this kind of offense. The students are the reason why the school was created, and they should be allowed to change their school mascot.

8/29/2014
Irving,TX
Noemi
Ms.Bradley Nimitz High School
Students have limited control over their school newspapers. This is because it is not owned or regulated by the students. Rather, it is the school’s newspaper. The administration has the right to censor and choose the content for the news papers. Students may have the right to voice their opinions through the newspapers, however are they responsible enough to engage appropriately during discussions, arguments or even entertainment? On the other hand, the administration does not have the right to restrain student’s voices over issues that are of importance to the students. Both these situations deal with the infringement of the first amendment. Due to the clashing of these situations, a compromise as to be made. Students should voice their opinion in a behavior that is considered “school appropriate.” However, in this case, students were acting appropriately while the administration overstepped the boundaries of control. Of course this newspaper is read by the students, so content would still have to conform to their tastes. In this special case, students wanted to ban a derogatory word, which was completely appropriate. The administration does not have the right to force students into use a certain word students deem as inappropriate.

8/28/2014
Irving,TX
Miguel
Bradley/Nimitz
Students who try to ban words don't do it to offend, rather to not offend. If a group of students believe that a word is inappropriate to use in a newspaper for the students, their freedom of press should be respected. Forcing people to use a word that can be harmful is a complete violation of their freedom of speech. It is something that would benefit no one but harm many. The students should control the content of the newspaper that is aimed at their peers, not the school administration, specifically if the school administration is at a wrong for pressuring students to write something that can be controversial and harmful.

8/28/2014
Irving/Tx
Carolyn
Ms. Bradley/Nimitz
Since students have limited rights of “free speech” during school, Administrators and Teachers do have the right to ban certain derogatory words/statements. That being said, the students should have the right to ban and eliminate "Redskins" out of the school newspaper. Administrators and teachers do have the right to edit the school newspaper, in order to protect readers from being offended, but in this case, their choice of adding a discriminating word will affect and offend the majority of the readers. Students and Teachers should have an equal right in what to publish in the school newspaper. By forcing the students to add a word they don't feel comfortable publishing takes away the students' rights on free speech. Since it is a "student" newspaper, which is for the eyes of the students, the newspaper should appeal to the readers of the paper. The school board does have the right to view and edit what is going to be published in the school newspaper, but forcing a discriminating word into the school newspaper will just offend the majority of readers. Teachers should look upon their limitations of forcing what a student can or cannot say, as the student body is only looking out for each other, making sure no one is offended or belittled by one word.

8/28/2014
Irving,TX
Claudia
Bradley/Nimitz
When it comes to control over the school newspaper, the people who actually read the newspaper and keep up with it should be the ones that should have the most say on what should be included in it. School newspapers are designed for students to read, and they should be something students enjoy. However, students are not going to feel motivated to read if what they see is not appealing to them. One reason many are reluctant to let the students have a voice is due to the students’ maturity level. However, all that will show students is that their voices won’t be heard and will restrain them from standing up for what they believe in later on. An effort should be made to at least try and compromise where both sides are more at ease with what is being said in the newspaper.

8/28/2014
Irving,TX
Martin
Ms.Bradley/ Nimitz High School
Students should not be able to control what’s on the newspaper. It is a matter of who is more mature. Students can not be trusted in writing or choosing the content of the newspaper,but on the other hand I do believe that if something derogatory is said, which in this case “Redskins”,a compromise can be made between the teachers and students. It is understandable that some words are meant not to be used and borders are crossed, but anything can be changed or fixed.

8/27/2014
Irving/TX
Jessica
Ms. Bradley/ Nimitz High School
I think that students have limited power in school from what they can and can’t do including having a say in the school’s newspaper.It is the same when it comes to the school board, they have power but have limited power. Having complete power over the students voice will lead to chaos. It is preferable for the school and the school board to talk it out and both speak their mind and at the end have negotiated something fair and accepting for both. Students should not be able to completely ban a word from the school newspaper but be able to have a different change and still support their school.

8/26/2014
Irving/TX
Lee
Bradley/Nimitz
School systems are supposed to protect students from discrimination and defend their right to be treated equally. It is simply impossible to justify using a slur that dehumanizes thousands of people in a setting meant for impressionable children. There really isn’t room to debate on this. It is as simple as understanding that historically (and even currently) the word is meant to oppress and was created to persecute, not honor, Native Americans. A personal inability to empathize with an oppressed group suggests that you are aligned with or benefit from the system that oppresses them, and you need to take a moment and consider why it does not offend you. Consider why you can not empathize with a group of uncomfortable children and most importantly, thousands of people. Consider that system you align with is most likely biased, and consider why that may affect your opinion on the situation. And before you suggest someone just “ignore it/get over it” please remember that people protesting these injustices have heard these phrases before. Many times. From a variety of people who had one thing in common: The people saying those things did not care for the betterment of the ethnic group, and most likely benefited (if not directly, then indirectly) from their continued oppression. It honestly saddens me that most children these days have more common sense and empathy than many adults. It really is detestable for adults to force their personal prejudice and ignorance on children, especially at such a young age.

8/26/2014
Irving TX
Jonathan O
Mrs. Bradley Nimitz
Students should be the ones to control what is announced in the schools newspaper. Not only do they know what is going on but they understand the audience, which happens to be other students of or around the same age. The word “Redskin” can be banned from use in the Neshaminy High School newspaper but it does not mean the use of the word will cease to be used completely. No matter what anyone says the school mascot will still be called a “Redskin” until it is changed. It is unfortunate to see that students are taking the warrior spirit from the mascot and viewing it as a racist remark, but this is due to everybody having different views, opinions, and maturity levels. The school board does have the authority to ban certain aspects or stories in the paper but no matter who says what should go where or anything like that, it is the writer and editor that allow what is printed to be distributed to the audience.

8/26/2014
Irving/TX
Hillary
Bradley/Nimitz
I think that the students should have the right to have a say on what goes in the newspaper because it is for the students. The school should just take one step back and let the students handle most of it because kids nowadays know what grabs the attention. On the other hand i do disagree with taking redskins out because the Native Americans that do get offended need to understand that it’s school related and it’s to show pride not offense.

8/26/2014
Irving/TX
Colton
Mrs. Bradley/Nimitz
Students should not control the content of the newspaper. Kids nowadays are unfortunately not at the level of maturity of what it takes to state an issue in a professional manner. Banning a certain word can not happen because no one can stop a writer from putting their thoughts in a writing sample. It is a definite issue with the first amendment having freedom of the press meaning we should be able to write what we want about what we want. The School Board does have the right to take control of the paper. However, until they do that, only the authors can control what is written in the editorials.

8/22/2014
Murrieta CA
Lily
Mr.Jabro Creekside Highschool
I think the students should control the content of the newspaper because they know all what's actually going on,the latest slag and offensive words and can make it more interesting. No it is not right to ban words because it offends someone. If it's the school mascot or something school related it was meant to show pride not offense. I think the offended people need to just suck it up and deal with it. The school board does has the right to ban certain newspaper content.

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