NESHAMINY >> The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) has tabled a final decision on whether the Neshaminy School District’s use of the name ‘Redskins’ for its sports teams and mascot is offensive to Native-Americans and should be scrapped.
The agenda item was removed without explanation right before the commission’s scheduled monthly meeting in Harrisburg on Oct. 28, according to PHRC spokesperson Renee Martin.
Martin said that it’s expected to be on the agenda at the commission’s Nov. 25 meeting, also to be held in Harrisburg. A vote could take place at that time after discussion and public comment.
The long-awaited decision by the 11- member commission would top several years of arduous investigation which had included a week-long session of public testimony earlier this year at the Bucks County Community College’s Newtown campus.
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 non-public 'Finding of Probable Cause’ viewed at the time by BucksLocalNews.com, the case was deemed to have merit.
The school district was asked to stop using the terms and start immediately looking for “suitable, non-discriminatory names and mascots for its teams and schools.”
The original complaint was 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 for its sports teams and mascot.
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.
It claimed that the use of the ‘Redskins’ name and images discriminated against their heritage.
In its initial probable cause determination, the commission's staff agreed, finding that the use created a “hostile educational environment” for Boyle’s son in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
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 in order for the case to proceed.
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 to those of Native-Americans descent.
The PHRC’s efforts to mediate the situation between the parties proved fruitless, so the commission eventually held public hearings on the issue.
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, many of whom have spoken out at school board meetings urging the district to retain their use.
Meanwhile, the Neshaminy ‘Redskins’ dispute has also been a battle cry of the high school’s student newspaper, The Playwickian, whose editorial staff overwhelmingly voted in late 2013 to forever ban the word from its pages.
That had sparked a contentious battle between the newspaper and school district officials, resulting in a month-long suspension of the then-student editor Gillian McGoldrick, as well as a two day suspension for teacher Tara Huber who advised the publication.
In response to the newspaper’s ban on the use of the terms, the school district had approved a policy allowing the editorial staff to remove the names from news articles, but requiring them to remain in op-ed pieces.
Other school districts around the country, as well as in Pennsylvania, have already changed similar team names and mascots without having to engage in legal proceedings.
The PHRC, which is part of the governor’s office, holds the power to ultimately order a resolution that has the weight of law.
When the full commission eventually votes on the matter, a simple majority is required for a final determination.
Either side can then appeal that ruling to Commonwealth Court.