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The Playwickian v. Neshaminy School Board:
What is freedom of the student press
and how does a staff make and defend editorial decisions?
A lesson in freedom

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Blog, Hazelwood, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The Playwickian vs. Neshaminy School Board – What is freedom of the student press and how does a staff make and defend editorial decisions?
by Cindi Hyatt
This lesson is intended to promote discussion of what the First Amendment defines as free speech and press.  Students need to recognize that the First Amendment is intended to protect but also intended to encourage “debate on public issues … [and should be] … uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” according to Justice William Brennan’s opinion in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964).

One of these debates currently in discussion concerns the battle between the Neshaminy School District and the student newspaper, The Playwickian, over the use of the word “Redskin.”

Students will read three primary documents, followed by discussion of key questions. After this lesson, students should have a deeper understanding of the First Amendment and the complexities of freedom of the press as it relates to student journalism. They should also be aware of how and why they make their own editorial decisions in their student run media.

Background expectations:  Students should have a basic understanding of Tinker, Bethel, Morse ( and Hazelwood cases ( Also a handout of the SPLC’s diagram:  ( Students should be familiar with the language of the First Amendment and the five freedoms (speech, religion, assembly, petition, press).

Key questions to consider:
• Did the principal and school board meet a standard of reasonableness when they chose to restrict school-sponsored expression?
• Can a government or authority force the students to take this position (compel speech)?  In other words, should the school district be able to force the student editors to print a term they find offensive?
• Is the restriction of the term “Redskin” infringe upon the rights of other students’ First Amendment rights, preventing the free flow of discourse?
• How has the Playwickian editorial staff exercised its First Amendment rights as student press?
• How would your staff handle a similar situation?
• Would your staff adopt a policy against using the term redskin for the NFL team Washington Redskins? What would that policy look like? (For further reading on this, please click here.)


• Students will read texts that address complex First Amendment issues
• Students will recognize that the First Amendment is open to interpretation
• Students will identify and discuss key points regarding free speech
• Students will recognize both points of view
• Students will discuss how they make editorial decisions
• Students will identify if their publication is protected under the Tinker standard.
• Students will determine if their publication is a public forum
• Students will consider drafting a public policy or an addition to an existing policy for publication that will help serve as protection if any future censorship issues arise with administration.

Common Core State Standards
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.

135 minutes (three 45-minute lessons)
Days One and Two – Understanding the Neshaminy issue and its connection to the First Amendment’s freedom of the press.
Day Three – Reflecting upon student decision making process regarding freedom as student press and determining if their publication is a public forum.

Materials / resources
Article 1
: Playwickian editorial explaining the decision to stop using the word “Redskin”
Article 2: Neshaminy officials could use some schooling
Article 3: Freedom of press belongs to school, not student editors

Lesson step-by-step

Day One
1. Introduction — 5 minutes
Teacher should post or project the First Amendment. Ask students to read through it. What does it mean?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2. Brainstorm case review — 5 minutes
Ask students to help brainstorm a list of cases in which the First Amendment has been challenged. Write the cases on the board.

If students have not learned the cases, teacher should provide a brief overview of each.
Ask students how the First Amendment has been challenged in student journalism cases.

3. Large group discussion — 15 minutes
Class should discuss how the First Amendment has been challenged in each of these cases.

4. Reading — 10 minutes
Teacher should pass out the handout on the background of the Neshaminy case.

5. Reporting on reading — 10 minutes
Teacher should ask students to tell you what happened in the Neshaminy case.

Day 2
1. Review — 5 minutes
Ask students to debrief of the specifics of the Neshaminy case.  Ask them what links can be made between this one and the cases discussed during the last class.

2. Reading — 15 minutes
Students should have three primary texts about the Neshaminy case. Ask them to make notes about what they think is important while reading. Tell them they will be working through questions when finished.

Pass out the following:
• The actual editorial published in The Playwickian October 2013
• An opinion piece by Karen Heller, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist (in favor of the students)
• An editorial from the Union Bulletin in Walla Walla Washington (supporting the administration)

5. Pair work — 15 minutes
Students should answer questions from the handout in pairs.

Handout on Playwickian editorial.
Handout on Inquirer column.
Handout on Walla Walla editorial.

6. Small group discussion — 10 minutes
Students pairs should join another pair to create groups of four. Then, the group should discuss the answers to the worksheet in small groups. Ask them to turn in one sheet per group of four.

Day 3
1. Review — 5 minutes

Teacher should pass out the sheets the students turned in during the last class. Ask students to rejoin the groups from the previous class and review their answers.

2. Link to student publications — 10 minutes
Students will determine which standard – Tinker or Hazelwood – applies to their publication. They may have to look up state school code to determine this.

3. Checklist evaluation — 10 minutes

In the group of four, students should fill out the checklist to help guide them in discussing how they make decisions as an editorial board and about their responsibilities to their school and community.

4. Debrief — 10 minutes
Teacher should ask students what they found and discuss.

5. Reflection — 5 minutes
Teacher should ask students to discuss how they can make ethical and responsible decisions as a staff regarding controversial or sensitive issues. What examples can each group find?

6. Action — 5 minutes
Teacher should ask students if their policy needs reframing. If so, how would they go about doing so? Students should consider publishing a public policy in their publication. Here is one from Conestoga High in Pennsylvania.

Students could further explore this topic by looking at the link between the Neshaminy situation and the Washington Post refusal to mention “Redskins” on its op ed pages

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Updates on scholastic issues across the nation

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Several events in the world of scholastic journalism – and that affects it – occurred recently. Censorship issues have not taken a summer break:
• Both good and bad news exist for two publications in NJ.  First the good news. John Wodnick, the adviser of the Allendale , NJ newspaper, said.  “Thought you should know– the censored article was published today in the Senior Issue.  Big victory for Adelina and the Fling! Here’s the SPLC article on the situation (there’s a link to a pdf of the article near the end of the news brief):” The adviser of the paper has since resigned. So, while the students had victories with two censorship cases in their favor, their advisers lost. This makes the third member of the GSSPA board lost, John Tagliareni of New Jersey, said. 
In addition, there is further news, both good and bad, from Pemberton, NJ. The Student Press Law Center reported that The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, came out with its 2014 Jefferson Muzzles, the annual award it presents to those that “forgot or disregarded Mr. Jefferson’s admonition that freedom of speech ‘cannot be limited without being lost.’”  The organization gave the dubious distinction by “honoring”  principal Ida Smith for the censorship case.
However, the students are now fighting to keep their journalism classes. While the enrollment numbers are down, in the past, the classes would have been consolidated. John Tagliareni spoke directly to the students, who are fighting the cuts. They, and adviser Bill Gurden, feel the cuts are retribution for the battles and their victory of the publication of their censored article. Sound familiar? The latest bit of information is definitely not good.
• Neshaminy, PA, on the issue of using the term “Redskins:”
–Update: The Neshaminy board police committee voted Tuesday, June 24, to move the full policy, #600, requiring students to use the word “Redskin” for a vote June 26, Thursday. The board will also vote on a social media policy affecting students, #811.
–Principal confiscates last issue; then makes it available again.
–The U.S. Patent Office has canceled six trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins football team, saying they are offensive to Native Americans. A related article provides more background on the situation.
– wrote this piece about the issue of the “R” word.
– talks about the controversy continuing.
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Current First Amendment issues worth noting

Posted by on Jun 1, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Yearbook | 0 comments


Looking for discussion starters for the end of school?

For the latest on three nationally ongoing censorship issues, check out:

Fond du Lac, WI

• Cardinal Columns: Filthy administrative minds, “dangerous advice” and the persistent kids of Cardinal Columns
• They’re still censoring the Cardinal Columns FYI – now deny seniors a final issues
• Fond du Lac students protest school censorship

Neshaminy, PA
• Neshaminy board tables controversial publication policy changes

• Controversial Neshaminy policy going back to committee

• Why forcing a student newspaper to use a racial slur is wrong on so many levels

• Playwickian staff implores Neshaminy board not to adopt policy preventing student newspaper from banning use of ‘Redskin’ mascot name

Heber City, UT
• Altered yearbook photos at Utah high school spark controversy

• School alters girls’ yearbook photos to cover bare skin, is not sorry

• Photoshop a yearbook photo neckline, and you tell a teen to be someone else

• ‘Shoulder-shaming’ girls at Utah high school: Why the big coverup?

• Students say altered yearbook photos meant to shame them (see related stories)

In related coverage  of journalism ethics now and in the fall, the question of how altering pictures in student media affects journalism as a whole and creates  the potential of multiple ethical lessons.

• Editing yearbook photos not uncommon, says printer



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National scholastic journalism groups’ position on Neshaminy policy proposal

Posted by on May 3, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment


As the national organizations of journalism educators committed to the training of future journalists and the preparation of citizens for life in our democracy, we write to express our vigorous opposition to the proposed policy changes under consideration by the Neshaminy Board of School Directors that relate to school-sponsored student publications

We find the proposed policy changes, which give school officials virtually unlimited authority to censor student journalism even of the highest quality, educationally unsound, constitutionally insufficient and morally indefensible.  They are inconsistent with the student media policies recommended by national education experts.

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And the children shall lead them: Student journalists make a difference

Posted by on Dec 24, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments


by Jane Blystone

Scholastic journalists often make a difference in their school and community by publishing story packages that are live issues in their locale. However, when students choose not to publish something, they still a make a difference in their school, community and in the public media.

By majority vote of the editorial board of the Neshaminy High School, (Langhorne, Pa.) newspaper, the Playwickian voted in October not to publish the name of their school mascot in the paper. This decision has raised much awareness and controversy about a term they believe is racist and is the name of their school mascot (‘Redskins’ hereafter referred to as the “r” word.)

Late in October, I receive d a phone call from Playwickian editor Gillian McGoldrick, who wanted some support and direction from the Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Commission ( regarding an editorial that her staff had published October 23 about the choice of the editorial board (14-7) not to use the name of their school mascot any longer in their student publication because it was a racist term. (See editorial.) In the same issue the seven students on the editorial board who dissented posted their opinion regarding the ‘r’ word.

The principal had demanded that they continue to use the term in their student publication.   However, that was in direct opposition to Pennsylvania Code 12.9 regarding student freedom of expression: “(a) The right of public school students to freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United states and the Constitution of the Commonwealth.  (b) Students shall have the right to express themselves unless the expression materially and substantially interferes with the educational process, threatens serious harm to the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual’s rights.”  ( Pa. Code 12.9)

During discussion, we talked about several things she needed to do as the editor. First, she needed to contact the Student Press Law Center (, who could help her with legal council and then go to the JEA Scholastic Press Rights blog and push the Panic Button (see button in menu bar at the top of this page), where she could explain her staff’s situation.  Once she sent that button, we Scholastic Press Rights Commissioners moved into action. Tweets and Facebook posts were launched describing the situation and linking to Playwickian online pages. Student and adviser support came pouring in across the country as SPLC attorneys executive director Frank Lomonte and legal counsel Adam Goldstein moved into action to provide guidance to the students. Read the follow up story here.

Editors were called to a meeting of the principal, which was moved to an evening meeting so parents of staffers could attend. After the two-hour meeting and a 53-page directive from the principal about why they must continue to use the school mascot name, even though they believe it to be a racist term, the students published a November issue.

A firestorm of support for the students moved out into the area media including the The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer. From there it went viral on Twitter and Facebook, ESPN, The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as other national media outlets. Posts on their Twitter account and their Facebook pages also document opposing positions regarding not using the “r” word.

Students have engaged the Washington, D.C. law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz to represent them. The firm has informed the school district solicitor that the directive requiring students to use the “r” word in their publication is unconstitutional and that they will go to court if necessary.

Public media in the Neshaminy area are supporting the students by no longer using the “r” word in their publications when reporting on Neshaminy sports and the Bucks County Courier has called on the school board to intervene. “We call on the school board to act, to engage the community in a discussion, and to give students the validation and respect they deserve,” it said.

While student journalists at Neshaminy High School were forced to include the “r” word in their publications, cheerleaders in McCalla, Al. were punished for using the term “Trail of Tears “ on a banner they created for a football game in November. Dr. Stephen Nowlin, superintendent said he was disappointed that students at McAdory High School students used the term, considered offensive and insensitive to Native Americans.  Although an apology was posted earlier by the principal on the school website, it no longer appears.

Editors of the Playwickian continue to educate the public on the Lenni Lenape Nation in Bucks County within their publication to demonstrate the impact of using the “r” word.

For her leadership in the process of removing the “r” word from her publication, 16 year-old editor-in-chief Gillian McGoldrick has been awarded the Widener University High School Leadership award that also carries a $20,000 scholarship if she chooses to attend Widener.

The battle continues and student journalists continue to make a difference.  As one adult in the area shared with me earlier this week, “And children shall lead them” sums up the action of these responsible student journalists.




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