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Parent details violent origin of controversial Pa. school mascot

Written by Aaron Moselle/WHYY | Jan 11, 2019 5:32 AM
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A mural of the Neshaminy High School mascot, the Redskin. (Eugene Sonn/WHYY)

"It was used to describe body parts taken for bounty - bounty that was paid to white settlers."

Disclosure: A Neshaminy High School graduate who works at WHYY was deposed as part of the commission's case.

(Undated) -- A Bucks County parent told a Pennsylvania commission Thursday that the Neshaminy School District must retire a decades-old mascot because it's a racial slur for Native Americans.

The sports teams at two schools in the suburban Philadelphia school district are called the "Redskins."

"It was used to describe body parts taken for bounty - bounty that was paid to white settlers in the extermination process of native people to obtain land," said Langhorne resident Donna Fann-Boyle, who has Native American lineage, during a public hearing called by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

In 2013, while one of her sons was a freshman at Neshaminy High School, Fann-Boyle filed a complaint with the commission. Two years later, the commission sued the school district after Fann-Boyle voluntarily withdrew her complaint, but not before ruling it had probable cause.

Similar to Fann-Boyle, the commission is arguing that the mascot is derogatory and creates a "hostile educational environment" for Neshaminy students, whether or not they're Native American. The majority of students in the district are white.

Fann-Boyle stands by her claim and said it's problematic that the district doesn't agree that the team names need to change.

"All of the students are indoctrinated into this," she said. "They think of a racial slur as a point of pride. And then I have to allow these people to influence my children."

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Ann Remy (right), is of Lenape descent, and Donna Fann-Boyle (left) is of Cherokee descent. Fann-Boyle is testifying at a public hearing in Bucks County about the Neshaminy School District mascot. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The district doesn't have a physical mascot - someone who dresses up to resemble a Native American.

The logo for the high school basketball team features a Native American man wearing a feathered headdress. Baseball players wear hats with tomahawks on the front, and the football team wears helmets that say "Skins."

The district, which enrolls more than 8,700 students, has called the commission's allegations "unfounded."

The hearing is expected to conclude Friday. It's unclear when a ruling will come, and either side can appeal to Commonwealth Court.

The long-simmering debate over the district's mascot made national headlines in 2014 when school officials - and the school board - fought editors at the high school newspaper, who decided to ban "Redskins" from articles and editorials because they deemed it racially insensitive.

During the battle, the paper's faculty adviser was suspended without pay for two days. The paper's editor-in-chief was suspended from her post for a month, and the newspaper's budget was docked $1,200.

In response to the student-led ban, the Neshaminy school board passed a policy, still in place today, that barred editors from removing "Redskins" from op-eds, but allowed them to keep it out of news articles.

 

WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.

 

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