MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP >> The July 3rd decision by the Washington Redskins to retire its name and logo has cast the local spotlight back on the Neshaminy School District and its own Redskins moniker.
In response to the renewed attention, the school district on July 17 released a statement regarding the use of the team name and related imagery.
“Any decision to change the team name or related imagery will be made by the Neshaminy School Board with input from the Neshaminy community,” said the statement. “If such a change is made, it will be in a way that honors the proud academic and sports traditions at Neshaminy, and carefully plans the transition in such a way to meet the financial and practical needs of the District effectively.”
According to the district, the Neshaminy community has overwhelmingly supported the Neshaminy Redskins moniker in the past. “Whether this support has changed given the recent events in our nation is yet to be determined,” said the statement.
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.
Also in the statement, the district clarified its position on two related issues, the first involving a group of student journalists who in 2013 challenged the use of the Redskins name in the school newspaper, “The Playwickian.”
“The District respected their right to not use the name, and to speak their mind about this and other issues,” said the district. “That same respect was also extended to those that disagreed with their policy and chose to use the Redskins name, which is still the official moniker, in their own writing. We believe that this policy encourages open, respectful debate, and it continues to this day.”
The district also noted that in November 2019, after a seven-year process, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) issued a ruling regarding a case they brought against the District over the Redskins name and imagery.
“The ruling did not prohibit use of the Redskins name, but did order curriculum changes and approval of team imagery within a timeframe that was neither realistic or in accordance with the budgeting process for schools,” said the district.
Neshaminy is currently challenging the ruling on the grounds that it violates the School Board’s responsibility to make decisions about curriculum and financial decisions.
Moreover, the district said the PHRC ruling dictated the meaning of words and actions in the community.
“Neshaminy is not the only school in the Commonwealth using a Native American moniker and imagery, and has been unfairly singled out by the PHRC,” it argues.
The District appealed the ruling to Commonwealth Court and is awaiting their decision.
“Again, such a decision is for the Neshaminy community through their elected representatives, not an edict of a government commission,” the district says in its statement. “The District hopes the Commonwealth Court will re-establish this rightful process of local control for this and other such decisions.”
The original complaint was filed in 2013 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.
Boyle, whose late father was a Cherokee from Oklahoma, filed the complaint 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 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.
Boyle, who attended the commission meeting in Nov. 2019 when the final order was issued, said that although she was “shocked” that the decision still allowed the school district to use the term “Redskin,” she was still “very happy that they were told to remove all the native logos and images.”
But Boyle wondered that in light of the PHRC decision what representation the district will now choose, if any, for its logos and mascots.
She also noted that any education about the term "Redskin" must begin with elementary school students.
“The education to teach the students the truth about native people and the actual truth about the term ‘Redskin’ must be measurable,” Boyle explained, “There is a lot of work for the district to do to be able to keep the term.”
She continued: “This is not a total win for Neshaminy. It’s going to be hard to jump through the hoops that the commission has laid out. This is going to be a true ethical challenge for them.”
The school district 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.