A US school district faces legal action after shutting down a student newspaper for publishing a handful of pro-LGBTQ2S+ articles.
On August 29, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a five-page letter demanding that Northwestern Public Schools in Grand Island, Nebraska, allow the the viking saga to resume publication after its abrupt closure in May. The letter said Superintendent Jeff Edwards and the rest of the board had “flagrantly violated” the US Constitution by shutting down the award-winning Northwest High School newspaper, which had been in operation for 54 years.
“The District’s unlawful attempts to nullify student journalism and student opinions violate students’ rights to free speech and equal protection under the constitutions of Nebraska and the United States, Title IX of the Amendments to the ‘Education of 1972,’ says the letter, which was sent by the Nebraska Office of the ACLU.
Other demands included in the letter include an apology to the the viking saga and an action plan for how the district intends to protect student journalists in the future, according to the Lincoln, Nebraska, KOLN newspaper.
According to the ACLU of Nebraska, the school board engaged in perspective discrimination by hitting back at Northwest High School’s journalism program for pro-LGBTQ2S+ speech. In May, the newspaper published two articles related to Pride Month: an article on the history of the LGBTQ2S+ movement and an editorial opposing Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law.
“The way perspective discrimination works is that it doesn’t matter if school officials don’t like LGBTQ2S+ people,” said Sara Rips, senior legal and policy advisor for the ACLU Nebraska. Grand Island Independent newspaper. “[Students] have the right to express their opinions.
While the ACLU of Nebraska has not confirmed whether it intends to move forward with litigation if the school district does not comply, the civil rights group claimed that the legal system is on his side. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1974 case Miami Herald Publishing Co. vs. Tornillo that the constitution protects the editorial freedom of student journalists.
North West Public Schools has yet to respond to the letter of request and has remained largely silent on the controversy as the the viking saga the judgment continues to attract media attention. When contacted by the IndependentEdwards declined to comment, offering only that it was an “administrative decision.”
Students at Northwest High School said the situation resulted from a months-long standoff that began when the the viking saga was forced to give trans journalists a dead name on the paper. According to New York TimesDirector PJ Smith informed students in March that the publication must now print signatures under reporters’ birth names, a move that reportedly impacted three trans students on the staff.
Marcus Pennell, who was forced to publish his ‘Don’t Say Gay’ op-ed for the June issue under his uncorrected legal name, said the principal’s edict really hurt him. “It was the first time the school was officially, like, ‘We don’t really want you here,'” Pennell told the Independent. “You know, that was a big deal for me.”
Smith did not comment to the press regarding the situation, referring reporters to the school district for a statement.
While the administrators remain silent, a member of the board of directors confirmed that the newspaper had indeed been closed because of its pro-LGBTQ2S+ content. Board Vice Chairman Zach Mader told the Independent that there was “a bit of hostility among some” regarding the articles and suggested that public schools in the North West had already considered taking action against the the viking saga.
“I think there was talk of deleting our journal if we weren’t able to control the content we saw [as] inappropriate,” he said.
Had local ratepayers seen the articles posted in support of the LGBTQS+ community, Mader added that he thinks there would have been an even bigger outcry than the district is currently embroiled in. What’s going on in our school? “, he said.