Everything You Need to Know About Neshaminy v. PHRC

Sophie Laurence, Editor-in-Chief

The case between Neshaminy School District and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission over the school’s nickname has been long and complicated, and it has been an issue that has split the community into two. This timeline is meant to help the public understand everything about the case.
April 2001- The Playwickian staff published an editorial in the Look At It Our Way section of their paper, which was a place where the staff could publish pieces that represented the opinion of the majority of the staff. In the April edition, a piece titled “Reading, Writing, Racism,” was printed. This was the first time the issue surrounding the name of Neshaminy sports teams was brought up.
In the piece, the students write, “Using [R*******] as a name for our school not only trivializes the anguish Native Americans suffered, but also makes the racism toward them seem acceptable due to their utilization in an educational environment.
“Neshaminy stresses the importance of fostering and maintaining an atmosphere that promotes tolerance and acceptance,” the editorial continues. “However, with [R*******] as a team name, the school is promoting tolerance and acceptance of atrocities performed years ago.”
Tara Huber, who was the adviser of the paper at the time, did not respond to comment in regards to how the public responded to this editorial.
Sept. 2012- Donna Boyle filed a complaint with Assistant Principal Tom Magdelinskas about the name. Boyle is of Cherokee and Choctaw descent.
According to Boyle, her son felt uncomfortable in the Neshaminy environment because of the use of the term. Boyle informed Magdalinskas that the term was a racial slur and that the imagery used for Neshaminy logos were not accurate to the area’s Native Americans.
This single complaint was followed by “hundreds” of emails to both Magdalinskas and Dr. Robert McGee, who was head principal of Neshaminy High School at the time.
Boyle went on to file a complaint with the PHRC, who proceeded to file a charge against the Neshaminy School District. However, Boyle withdrew her complaint in Sept. 2013, just days before the trial was set to begin for unknown reasons. The PHRC continued to pursue the case anyway.
Oct. 2013- The Playwickian published another Look At It Our Way titled “Why We Refuse to Publish the R-Word.” In this editorial, the paper decided that they would not print the term again as a form of protest. Since this was published, the term has not been printed in The Playwickian.
This policy was put in place by the Nov. edition of the same year. This raised a lot of questions and debates throughout the Neshaminy community.
June 2014- A letter was written to the editors of The Playwickian by Stephen J. Pirritano, who was a senior at the time. In this letter, which was supposed to be printed in the June edition of the paper, Pirritano was advocating for the use of the term again in The Playwickian. He wrote, “Being a Neshaminy [R******] is more than just a title. It is a closely knit family consisting of everyone who is involved or has ever been involved with the Neshaminy School District. I am proud to forever be a Neshaminy [R******] and no one, not even “The Playwickian”, can censor that.”
The Playwickian is subjected to prior review, which means that every article, headline, and photo published by the paper is reviewed and approved by the Neshaminy High School administration. This letter was approved by administration, but before the paper went to print, the staff replaced the letter with white space, where they wrote “A letter to the editor regarding the use of the mascot’s name was sent to us. The editors wished to publish the letter with the word as “R——-,” but the school administration advised us that we must publish the entire word. In light of that we have decided not to publish the letter in this edition of The Playwickian…”
The copies of this paper were confiscated. Policy 600 was quickly revised. The Playwickian’s budget was cut from $10 thousand to $2 thousand. The students and teachers involved were suspended without pay.
Feb. 2019- The case went back to court. The PHRC argued that the term is a racial slur, and that it is wrong for a team to be named that. They also argued that the logos and images used by Neshaminy are stereotypical and also racist, and should not be used either. Neshaminy argued that they use the term not in a malicious way, but as a source of pride in the people that once lived here.
Nov. 25, 2019- The PHRC decided that Neshaminy could keep the name of the team, but that they must change “all logos and images that negatively stereotype Native Americans.”
They also said that Neshaminy needed to create a curriculum that educates its students on Native Americans.
Neshaminy chose to appeal this decision, so the case has been sent to state courts.
Where are we now?- No official decisions have been made since Nov. However, WHYY published an article about the amount of money the district has spent on this case. They reported that the cost was “roughly $435,000” defending the name. There has been some question as to where this money is coming from.
“The District has an approximate, annual budget of $185M,” said Superintendent Joseph Jones. “A small portion of that money is designated for various legal expenses that the District incurs during the course of any given school year. Additionally, as noted above, a portion of the cost to date – approximately 25% — has been covered by insurance.
“The $331,000 number referenced earlier is for a six-year period,” Jones continued. “ That comes to approximately $55,000/year.”
This case has cracked the Neshaminy community into two, and though many teachers, coaches, students, and administrators are very vocal about their opinions on the matter, Principal Ryan Staub is not one of them. “It is my job to provide students with a safe environment to learn, not my job to give my opinion and create a divide. I want every student to feel safe, so I won’t be giving my personal opinion on the matter.”
School Board President Stephen Pirritano, who is also the father of the student who submitted the letter-to-the-editor back in June 2014, said, “ I am not personally opposed to a changing of the school team name as long as it is something that is driven by our school community.”
Former Superintendent Robert Copeland and former Principal Dr. Robert McGee both declined to comment.
The Playwickian will continue to cover any new information that comes up in regards to this case as objectively as possible. However, we will continue to follow our policy to not print the term until both sides have come to an agreement and abided by any terms set.