Bucks County

$425K in Legal Fees Later, Neshaminy High Sticking With Offensive Team Name

A school board in Bucks County is challenging a ruling by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in a case that dates to 2013 over its high school team name, which Native Americans find offensive.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Donna Fann-Boyle first pushed for Neshaminy High School to drop its use of a slur against Native Americans as its team name since 2012.

Eight years later, the township school board has not only continuously avoided dropping the term "Redskins," but it has spent $425,000 fighting the name change since the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ruled against the school district in 2019.

The cost of legal fees will continue to rise as the school district is now appealing the state commission's ruling to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

"People around here say, 'we are honoring the natives of this region,'" Fann-Boyle said of the excuse she has heard for years. "But the natives of this area say, 'we are not honored by the name."

"They’re dishonoring themselves is what's really happening," added Fann-Boyle, who is part Choctaw and Cherokee.

But the time may finally be coming for a name change in light of a National Football League franchise's decision to change its team name and logo, she said.

On Sunday, the NFL's Washington, D.C. team, announced they would drop their team name, which is the same as Neshaminy High School's, because of its derogatory history and use. For years, Fann-Boyle said, residents used the NFL franchise as a fallback excuse for not changing the high school's team name.

Washington’s NFL team announced on Monday that they will be changing their team name and logo after corporate sponsors urged them to drop the old name, which is a racist slur.

The executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Chad Lassiter, said that the decision by the NFL team is "a transformative moment for our country."

He declined to comment on the specific case against Neshaminy that is ongoing.

Neshaminy School Board President Steve Pirritano said Monday that the ongoing legal battle with the Human Relations Commission and the legal fees associated with it is over jurisdictional rights, not the high school team name.

The state commission ruled last year that the district either drop the school name, or keep it and ensure "the requisite educational information is provided to District students to ensure that students do not form the idea that it is acceptable to stereotype any group.  The educational requirement shall continue as long as the District continues the use of the term Redskins."

Pirritano said that is what the school board is challenging.

"The PHRC does not have the jurisdiction to enforce any curriculum upon a school district," Pirritano said. "The school board is not going to let an outside organization circumvent the decisions of a local, duly-elected governing body."

"That's what this fight is about, and that's what the $425,000 is going to," he added.

Neshaminy School District spokesman, Chris Stanley, declined to comment on the lawsuit as well.

"As this matter is still the subject of ongoing litigation, the District won't have any comment at this time," Stanley said.

In 2013, student editors of the high school newspaper proactively banned the team name from use. A few months later, the school board made up of adults forced the school newspaper to use the r-word in certain circumstances.

The Neshaminy School Board voted Thursday night on a policy that could force student editors to print the name of the school’s mascot in certain situations. NBC10’s George Spencer was there as the board voted, and got reaction from students.

Fann-Boyle, who has lived in Neshaminy for 26 years and whose two sons graduated from Neshaminy High School, said she has dealt with vitriol from some fellow township residents for years since she started her local crusade eight years ago.

But the hate online and by phone has intensified since the ruling by the state Human Relations Commission last year. She said she even received threat of violence over the weekend as she was set to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally on behalf of the American Indian Movement and the Coalition of Natives and Allies.

"It got really bad," she said of hatred from township residents as her fight to get the name changed went on over the years. "Then, this weekend, a white supremacist threatened me online."

In a post, the man wrote, "B**** needs to suck on a shotgun."

She said she contacted the Pennsylvania state police, who said they would be present at the rally and would investigate the author of the post.

Contact Us