Newspaper police strike at Neshaminy

Young people who write for and edit a student newspaper can learn invaluable lessons, and not just about story selection and making a headline fit. More important than those types of things are exposure to the inherent power of the printed word and the need at all times to wield that power responsibly.

In the controversy about Neshaminy High School’s nickname, student editors of The Playwickian did indeed behave responsibly. Last fall, the students chose to ban any reference to “Redskins,” the school mascot, from the newspaper’s pages because they deemed the term racially offensive. Members of The Playwickian staff made what, to them, was the correct editorial decision. Newspaper people make those kinds of decisions every day. In fact, the editorial boards at The Intelligencer and its sister newspapers, The Bucks County Courier Times and The Burlington County Times, adopted a similar policy concerning the use of the word “Redskins.”
The decision was not universally popular. In the students’ case, the heat came from school administrators, who said the students couldn’t ban “Redskins” from print. A school board committee has proposed overturning the ban, mandating a 10-day prior review of the student newspaper by the administration and restricting online comments on articles appearing in the publication. The full school board could approve the latest wording of the new restrictions at this evening’s board meeting.
Two weeks ago, the students published their final edition of the school year without administration approval, this time in a dispute over a student letter that used the banned word and criticized the newspaper for barring it. The administration ordered publication of the letter with the word included. Rather than violate their own prohibition, the students didn’t use the letter at all, instead running an editor’s note explaining their position, then had the paper printed and distributed it. The administration countered by removing the printed copies from the school and blocking online publication.
And school officials weren’t through. Principal Robert McGee directed teacher and newspaper adviser Tara Huber to change the passwords of the website, email and social media accounts for the paper. Huber decided to close the media accounts instead.
The district’s decisions are right out of the smash-the-presses school of journalistic censorship. Regardless of what happens at the board meeting, the administration has succeeded in totally embarrassing itself by its heavy-handed crackdown.
If school officials don’t trust the students’ integrity and want to exercise stifling control of the newspaper, they should just say so, close down The Playwickian and replace it with their own propaganda sheet that spouts the “approved company line.” That would be a good lesson for the kids.


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