Neshaminy

NESHAMINY >>The Neshaminy School District has so far spent about $435,000 to defend the controversial “Redskins” team name and images, according to school board president Marty Sullivan.

And the district is expected to spend even more in appealing the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission’s (PHRC) November decision.

In a lengthy news release, which was sent to the local media on Dec. 19, Sullivan said that Neshaminy has racked up roughly $331,000 of its own money since 2013 in battling the PHRC complaint that the names and related Native American imagery used by its sports teams are racial slurs.

According to the school board president, the district also spent another $104,000 on the litigation which was reimbursed by Neshaminy’s insurance carrier.

In addition Sullivan said that the district is expected to shell out an additional $20,000 on its appeal of the commission’s ruling to Commonwealth Court.

The Neshaminy School District budget for the 2019-20 school year is roughly $185 million.

“Neshaminy has used the term Redskin in connection with its sports teams and high school dating back to at least the 1930s,” Sullivan defended in his op-ed statement.

“The term has always been used as a unifying theme that evokes pride in the District while echoing the history of the region we serve.”

However, many critics contend that the images used by the sports teams do not properly reflect the style of dress worn by the region’s Leni Lenape tribes.

Sullivan also attacked the PHRC for singling out Neshaminy in filing the complaint, noting that there are at least 50 other school districts the state which use Native-American imagery and names.

“Neshaminy is not even the only school district in Pennsylvania that uses the term Redskin,” he argued, “Yet somehow the PHRC has only indicated a concern with our district.”

At their regular monthly meeting Nov. 25, commission members voted 7-1 to accept a hearing officer’s report which had said that “Redskins” could continue to be used as long as the district made substantiated efforts to make students aware that these names could be offensive to Native Americans, and could be a discriminatory characterization.

At the same time, however, the PHRC had ordered Neshaminy to cease using the “stereotypical” logos and images of Native Americans for its sports teams and mascot.

Under the terms of the commission’s final order, Neshaminy must “cease and desist” using all logos and imagery which “negatively stereotype Native Americans.”

The logos for some the high school’s sports teams features either a profile of a Native-American warrior, tomahawk or the word “Skins.”

As long as the school district still uses the “Redskins” name, school officials are required to continuously file updates with the PHRC on how Neshaminy is adhering to these mandates of educating its students about negative stereotypes.

The school district, which has more than 8,000 students in 11 schools, must comply with this section of the final order by the end of this year.

At the school board’s Dec. 2 re-organization meeting, members unanimously voted to appeal the entire PHRC final order to Commonwealth Court, no matter the future price tag.

The long-awaited decision by the commission had ended more than six years of investigation which had included a week-long session of public testimony earlier this year at the Bucks County Community College’s Newtown campus.

In his findings, hearing officer Carl Summerson had determined that that each of the logos must be reviewed independently to determine whether “they depict a negative stereotype.”

He had also written that the school district had failed to provide non-Native-American students with the information needed to prevent the stereotyping of Native peoples.

In 2015, the PHRC’s investigators and legal staff had initially determined that Neshaminy High School’s use of “Redskin” and “Redskins” was “racially derogatory” and created a “hostile educational environment.”

According to the commission’s then non-public ‘Finding of Probable Cause,’ the case was deemed to have merit.

At that time, the school district was then asked to stop using the terms and start immediately looking for “suitable, non-discriminatory names and mascots for its teams and schools.”

The district had refused to comply with that probable cause finding.

In his news release, school board president Sullivan claimed that abiding by that initial 2015 PHRC ruling would have cost the district “nearly $1 million.”

The original complaint had been filed by Langhorne resident Donna Boyle, who is of Native-American ancestry and a long-time opponent of the high school’s use of the ‘Redskins’ moniker.

In late 2013, Boyle, whose late father was a Cherokee from Oklahoma, filed the action for herself and her son, who at the time was a Neshaminy High School student.

The complaint had claimed that the use of the “Redskins” name and images discriminated against their heritage.

In its initial determination, the commission's staff had agreed, finding that the use created a “hostile educational environment” for Boyle’s son in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) which prohibits discriminatory conduct.

Two years later, at her request, Boyle and her son were removed as the named complainants, and instead the commission itself took over that role.

The school district had hired a separate legal team to fight the complaint, arguing that use the sports teams’ names were justified because they are was rooted in pride, not prejudice, and that they are not intended to be insulting or demeaning.

For decades, the name has graced Neshaminy High School’s sports teams and mascots, and is considered a tradition by many residents, students and alumni, some of whom have spoken out at school board meetings urging the district to retain their use.

Other districts around the country, as well as some in Pennsylvania, have already voluntarily changed similar team names and mascots without having to pursue legal remedies.

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