MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP >> The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) will open the new year by holding a hearing regarding ongoing litigation over the Neshaminy School District's team name and related imagery.
The PHRC, which has filed suit against the district over the use of the word “Redskins” and related Native American imagery, has scheduled the hearing, which is open for public viewing, from Jan. 7 through 11 beginning at 9 a.m. each day.
The hearing takes place in the Solarium Room located inside the Charles E. Rollins Center at the Bucks County Community College, 275 Swamp Road, Newtown. If necessary, additional hearing dates will be scheduled for January 14 and 15 at the same location.
In its lawsuit, the PHRC contends that the district’s Redskins team name and related Native American imagery discriminate against Native American students and create a hostile environment in the district’s schools.
The lawsuit has its roots in a separate claim of discrimination filed with the commission in 2013 by Donna Boyle on behalf of her child who was then a Neshaminy student. That claim asserted that the child was Native American and was suffering educational and other harm due to the Redskins team name and related imagery.
Boyle, who is of Native-American ancestry and had repeatedly criticized the board on the issue in 2012 and 2013, claimed that the district was hiding behind its lawyer, and refusing to deal with her complaint.
“I don’t understand the promotion of a racial slur,” she charged in April 2013. “It may not seem important to you but it is to those across the country who have Native-American blood in their veins. The school district will survive a mascot change,” she argued.
In response to Boyle’s comments, then board president Richie Webb noted that the “vast majority of the community” he had spoken with do not support scrapping the name. “We have to go back 60 years and ask what were they thinking when they did this. Was there any malice? Was it done with any disrespect in mind?” he asked, suggesting that there was none.
Webb added that the reason that many of these teams have such names is because Native Americans are respected for their bravery and courage, as well as being great warriors. “We get calls from people who are devout Neshaminy Redskins fans,” he said. “It’s purely tradition and not embedded in anything else.”
“[Boyle] finds it very offensive,” Webb added, “but I don’t think a majority of the people do.”
In October 2015 the claim on behalf of the student was voluntarily dismissed.
Shortly thereafter, in 2015, the PHRC initiated the current litigation. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act permits the PHRC to act as both the complaining party/plaintiff as well as the hearing officer/finder of fact in the case.
In a statement issued at its December reorganization meeting, the Neshaminy School Board said the district “denies the allegations in PHRC’s lawsuit and, through its counsel, is defending the case, as it did in the 2013 case. The District contends that PHRC’s allegations are unfounded” and said that “no additional comments on this ongoing matter will be made at this time.”