Nebraska school district hit with lawsuit after shutting down school paper over LGBTQ+ content: ‘I was crushed’

Grand Island Northwest High School

A school district in Nebraska is facing a lawsuit after a high school shut down its newspaper because students produced an LGBTQ+ edition. 

The lawsuit states that Grand Island Northwest Public Schools and its superintendent violated the First Amendment rights of students by axing the Viking Saga in May 2022. 

The newspaper had been running for 54 years.

As reported by the Associated Press, legal action has been brought by the Nebraska High School Press Association, and former Grand Island Northwest High School journalist Marcus Pennell. 

The student newspaper staff were made aware that the publication was being pulled three days after they published the June edition of the Viking Saga, which was a special LGBTQ+ print for Pride Month. 

The June newspaper included an article titled ‘Pride and prejudice: LGBTQIA+’ which examined the history of Pride Month, and included a piece about Florida’s oppressive ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. 

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On 22 May 2022, an email from a school employee said the print edition had been axed because “the school board and superintendent are unhappy with the last issue’s editorial content”.

However, in November, the teacher in charge of running the school’s journalism offering confirmed the paper would return in the spring but under the helm of another teacher, and in digital form only. 

‘I was crushed’

Despite this move to somewhat revive the publication, legal action is still being pursued over the decision to cancel the Viking Saga in the first place. 

When the return of the paper was announced, the Associated Press reported that an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said “attempts to quash student journalism and student opinions violate students’ rights to freedom of speech and equal protection”.

Marcus Pennell said: “It is hard to find words for what it felt like watching people who were supposed to be supporting our education instead silence us for covering issues impacting our lives. 

“I was crushed.”

Pennell, who is trans, alleges in the lawsuit that he and other staff could not use their chosen name or preferred pronouns in their bylines. 

Speaking with Local4 Pennell said: “I just don’t want other students to have to go through what I did.

“I’m sure after all this happened all the LGBT students at Northwest don’t feel safe writing about their lives or the issues that matter to them, so anything I can do to kinda increase their inclination to share their stories.”

The lawsuit is seeking a declaration that the school district broke the law, alongside unspecified damages.

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