GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Administrators at a Nebraska school shut down the school’s award-winning student newspaper just days after its last edition which included articles and editorials on LGBTQ issues, leading press freedom advocates qualify this decision as an act of censorship.
Staff of the 54-year-old North West Public Schools Saga newspaper were notified on May 19 of the newspaper’s elimination, the Grand Island Independent reported. Three days earlier, the newspaper printed its June edition, which included an article titled “Pride and Prejudice: LGBTQIA+” about the origins of Pride Month and the history of homophobia. It also included an op-ed opposing a Florida law that bans certain lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity and called by critics a “Don’t say gay.”
Officials overseeing the Grand Island-based district did not say when or why the decision was made to eliminate the student newspaper. But an email from a school employee to The Independent canceling the student newspaper’s printing services on May 22 said it was “because the school board and superintendent are unhappy with the editorial content of the last number”.
The paper’s demise also came a month after its staff were reprimanded for publishing students’ favorite pronouns and names. District officials told students they could only use names assigned at birth in the future.
Emma Smith, associate editor of Saga 2022, said the student newspaper had been informed that the ban on preferred names had been issued by the school board. The move directly affected Saga staff writer Marcus Pennell, a transgender student, who had his byline changed against his will to his birth name of “Meghan” Pennell in the June issue.
“It was the first time the school was officially, like, ‘We don’t really want you here,'” Pennell said. “You know, that was a big deal for me.”
Northwestern Director PJ Smith referred questions from the Independent to District Superintendent Jeff Edwards, who declined to answer questions about when and why the student newspaper was eliminated, saying only that it s was an “administrative decision”.
Some school board members have made no secret of their objection to the saga’s LGBTQ content, including board president Dan Leiser, who said “most people were upset.”
Board Vice Chairman Zach Mader directly quoted the pro-LGBTQ editorials, adding that if the district ratepayer had read the latest issue of the saga, “they would have been like, ‘Holy cow. What’s going on in our school? »
“It looks like a clumsy attempt to censor students and discriminate because of disagreement with the views and articles published in the student newspaper,” said Sara Rips, attorney for the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Nebraska Press Association attorney Max Kautsch, who specializes in media law in Nebraska and Kansas, noted that freedom of the press is protected by the US Constitution.
“The administration’s decision to eliminate the student newspaper violates students’ right to free speech unless the school can show a legitimate educational reason to remove the option to participate in a class. .which releases award-winning material,” Kautsch said. “It’s hard to imagine what that legitimate reason could be.”