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Students support peers across the country in censorship case

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Part four of a series – Making a Difference

In celebration of the anniversary of the February 25, 1969, United States Supreme Court Tinker vs. Des Moines, the JEA SPRC Making a Difference project salutes the The Foothill Dragon Press at Foothill Technology High School in Ventura (Calif.) for their support of fellow student journalists across country at the Playwickian, at Neshaminy High School (Pa.).

When student journalists at The Foothill Dragon Press learned that their peers were being censored, they posted this editorial on their website, entitled When one student is threatened, we are all threatened.

Their adviser, Melissa Wantz wrote “When the Neshaminy School Board in Langhorne, Pa., decided to rewrite district policy to prevent student editors at Neshaminy High School from prohibiting the word “Redskin” — a term the newspaper voted to ban from its pages — my students decided to use their editorial power to denounce the school board and to support the Playwickian newspaper staff. The day after the editorial was published online at, it was quoted or linked on social media, email and in an article published by the Student Press Law Center.

After researching and writing this editorial over a weekend, The Foothill Dragon Press journalists suddenly understood what it might feel like to lose their freedom and how they have to be prepared to fight for the First Amendment. The staff of the Playwickian expressed gratitude for The Foothill Dragon Press support by using their free speech rights to publicly comment beneath the online editorial.”

In September, the Playwickian staff had funds removed from their publishing account and one of their editors, Gillian McGoldrick, was suspended from her editorial position for a month. The adviser, Tara Huber was also suspended for three days without pay, because she did not censor her students for their practice of banning the term “Redskin” in their newspaper.

Once again the Foothills Dragon staff rose to the challenge and started an independent, national fundraiser to help pay for the publishing funds removed and the three days of pay the teacher lost as a result of the administrative discipline. That fundraiser surpassed the $2,400 in two days and reached a total of $6,810 to support their peers.

Like Mary Beth Tinker and John Tinker, these student journalists in Ventura, Calif., have made a national difference along with their peers in Langhorne, Pa. via scholastic journalism.

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Embattled editors tell
their powerful stories at SPLC dinner

Posted by on Oct 19, 2014 in Blog | 3 comments


Sometimes it’s the bad things in life that help a person find a cause, a passion or a pathway. From a Pulitzer Prize-winner who sued his principal in the ‘70s to two teens, still closely involved in censorship issues at their own schools, those at the Student Press Law Center’s 40th anniversary dinner Oct. 16 heard stories every teen journalist and adviser should hear.

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JEA-SPRC, SPLC condemn Neshaminy school district for
punishing newspaper editor, adviser
in ongoing fight over ‘Redskins’ name

Posted by on Sep 17, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



The Student Press Law Center and Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Commission condemned the actions of the Neshaminy School District in Pennsylvania Wednesday, following the District’s retaliatory and illegal actions calculated to punish thePlaywickian student newspaper, its editors and its adviser.

In response to an editorial board decision not to print the word “Redskins” because of its use as a racial slur, the administration handed down a decision this week to pull $1,200 of funding from the publication; to suspend its adviser, Tara Huber, for two days; and to suspend Editor-in-Chief Gillian McGoldrick from the newspaper until the end of September.

It has long been the law of this country that no government official can compel a student to speak or adopt words with which she disagrees. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). Imposing discipline for refusing to participate in the use of a racial slur is not only unconstitutional; it is un-American in the extreme.

These actions come at a time when a transparently illegal publications policy remains on the books at the District level, one that also purports to compel the use of certain words and attempts to hijack ownership of student work. These are, at their core, bullying tactics—forcing people to say words, then turn over their property.

Competent educators of good conscience would never resort to bullying tactics to perpetuate any ideology, let alone a racially offensive one.

We encourage the students to explore their legal options and urge the State of Pennsylvania to investigate whether the Neshaminy School Board members should be removed.


Frank LoMonte, Executive Director, Student Press Law Center
703.807.1904 /

John Bowen, Director, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission
330.676.3666 /

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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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The R-Word and the WaPo

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


by Matt Schott August 22, the Washington Post editorial board decided to no longer use the term Redskins in its editorials (I believe it will live on in the sports and news sections).

This is a decision that seems to be pretty roundly lauded, particularly by Native American groups who’ve been fighting for this change for years. And it is a decision to be lauded. Continuing to use a racial epithet as a team name is unacceptable.

However, let’s not get hurt ourselves patting the WaPo editorial board on the back for its decisions. While it is, by far, the most prominent editorial board to refuse to do this (and likely one of the most influential), it is not the first.

No, for that, you would need to travel to Pennsylvania.

Specifically, to Neshaminy High School.

Even more specifically, you’d need to visit with the student editors of The Playwickian, Neshaminy’s student newspaper. [pullquote]While it is, by far, the most prominent editorial board to refuse to do this (and likely one of the most influential), it is not the first. No, for that, you would need to travel to Pennsylvania. Specifically, to Neshaminy High School.[/pullquote]

In a decision that raised the ire of students, their principal and their school board, the editorial board of The Playwickian decided to no longer use the term Redskins (which is the school mascot) more than a year ago. A year.

And for that past year, they’ve been locked in battles with those aforementioned groups, fighting the principal who overturned their ban. The editorial board continued to defy its principal, threatening legal action if the school district continued fighting the ban.

The students’ mettle was tested when a student submitted a letter to the editor using the word, disagreeing with the editorial board’s decision. The editors chose to run it with the word Redskins changed to R——-.

Administrators ordered it to run unedited. The editorial board pulled it, choosing to run white space instead. The timing from the WaPo dovetails nicely with these students’ fight.

While I’d imagine this was announced because the NFL season kicking off in early September, this is also the time of year where students head back to school.

It would be great, as the student editors at Neshaminy headed back to their student newsroom – if the Washington Post, one of the vanguards of American journalism in the last 50 years – would provide a tip of the hat to these student journalists who showed them where the path of right was on this issue.

Perhaps the Post could send a letter to the students on staff, offer some advice or something of that sort. So often in the scholastic journalism classroom, it is students who look to the professionals for ideas and inspiration.

In this case, it’s the professionals who stand on the shoulders of giants. They should acknowledge this.

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