Last year, state officials coordinating with the Neshaminy School District and the PHRC arranged for a week of hearings about the Redskins name and logo beginning Monday, Jan. 7. Both sides would have the opportunity to make arguments and call witnesses.
Donna Fann-Boyle, 59, is a Middletown resident of Cherokee descent who brought a lawsuit against Neshaminy School District six years ago for its Redskins name and logo. Her son, now 20 years old, was a Neshaminy student at the time in 2013.
The parent dropped the case in 2015, claiming she faced an abundance of harassment and abuse. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission took up the mantle and decided to bring its own litigation.
Representing the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, attorney Lisa Knight made the opening statement.
“The school district may try to argue that when they use the term redskins, it means honor and pride for Native Americans,” Knight said. “However, the history of Native Americans in this country is so complex that to boil it down to one word, and one symbol, detracts from that complex history instead of honoring them.”
Knight also claimed the school district failed to address students’ concerns. Furthermore, she stated it actively punished those students for acting on their beliefs.
“The evidence will also establish that when students oppose the mascot name, they are denied educational opportunities that would otherwise be available to them,” Knight said. She continued, saying avoiding using the Redskins name would resulting losing the “opportunity to attend school sponsored sporting events or pep rallies.”
When Knight concluded, Neshaminy attorney Craig Ginsburg began his opening statement.
“Neshaminy is not a place where students are running around dressed like Native Americans and acting disrespectfully towards their culture,” Ginsburg said. “It’s a fine educational institution where children are getting a great education.”
Ginsburg also brought up events of the last litigation. After a series of hearings Neshaminy was allowed to keep its nickname.
“That complaint pended for about two years. It was going to come to a public hearing just like we are here today,” Ginsburg said referencing Fann-Boyle’s lawsuit. “But just on the cusp of that public hearing, the complaint was voluntarily dropped.”
Each side also called a witness to testify before the panel. The PHRC called its own Chad Dion Lassiter, a professor with time spent teaching race relations at UPenn and West Chester University.
Lassiter testified he had seen the harmful effects of racial slurs throughout his years. However, Ginsburg cross examining Lassiter revealed he was unaware of the PHRC investigator’s failing to visit the school or check academic records to measure any effects.
Ginsburg called upon M. Andre Billeaudeaux, executive director of Virginia’s Native American Guardians Association. He is also the author of How the Redskins Got Their Name.
Billeaudeaux referenced two separate studies more than a decade apart, including one from 2016. The Washington Post found less than 10% of Native Americans found the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins offensive.
Hearings will continue throughout the week and begin again Tuesday promptly at 9 a.m. in the Solarium Room. Parents are invited to attend so they can stay informed of the current situation.