Nebraska HS Students Publish LGBTQ+ Articles, Administration Cancels Newspaper

Monday August 29, 2022

Former Viking Saga newspaper staff members Marcus Pennell, left, and Emma Smith, right, display a pride flag outside of Northwest High School in Grand Island, Nebraska. Photograph: McKenna Lamoree/AP
Former Viking Saga newspaper staff members Marcus Pennell, left, and Emma Smith, right, display a pride flag outside of Northwest High School in Grand Island, Nebraska. Photograph: McKenna Lamoree/AP  

Last March, according to the New York Times, high school administrators visited Northwest High School in Grand Island, Nebraska with a directive. "Students, including at least three who were transgender, were ordered to use the names they were given at birth for bylines because using their preferred names was 'controversial,' according to a former student who was in the classroom and a lawyer for the Student Press Law Center."

Instead the students dedicated their final issue of the paper, called the Viking Saga, in June to LGBTQ+ topics, including the origin of Pride.

"Then," the Times added, "after publication, the school retaliated, said Mike Hiestand, the Student Press Law Center lawyer."

"Northwest Public Schools administrators and the superintendent, Jeff Edwards, shut down its newspaper program in June, infuriating student journalists and press freedom advocates who have denounced the move as censorship," the Times said.

"I think they said that if they can't stop it, can't control it, then they're just going to get rid of it," Hiestand said.

"The edition included student editorials on LGBTQ topics, along with a news article titled, 'Pride and prejudice: LGBTQIA+' on the origins of Pride Month (June) and the history of homophobia. Other articles explained registering for classes, highlighted achievements by the Future Business Leaders of America chapter and told the story of a group of siblings' adoption," the Times said.

The paper has 15 students on staff. It has been in print for 54 years at the high school, which has 700 students and is located in Grand Island, a small city about 95 miles west of Lincoln, the state capital.

The Times added that Northwest Public Schools superintendent Jeff Edwards and former principal Tim Krupicka "did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment last week. Mr. Edwards told The [Grand Island] Independent that cutting the program was an 'administrative' decision."

"Both Zach Mader, the vice president of the Northwest Public Schools board, declined to comment last week. But he told The Independent that there had been talks of 'doing away with our newspaper' if the board saw content deemed 'inappropriate.' He said that when the final issue came out, there had been 'a little bit of hostility amongst some.'"

"There were editorials that were essentially, I guess what I would say, L.G.B.T.Q.," Mader told The Grand Island Independent, the newspaper that first reported the incident last week.

"Max Kautsch, a First Amendment rights lawyer who works on media law cases in Nebraska and Kansas, said by phone that Mr. Mader's comments were evidence of discrimination against a certain viewpoint and censorship," the Times said.

"The motives aren't a mystery," Kautsch said, according to the Times. "The motives are to squelch the opinion of students who feel positively toward L.G.B.T.Q. movement."