This fall, Northwest Public School students will no longer be reading the Viking Saga, the high school’s award-winning student newspaper. The Grand Island, Nebraska, publication, which ran for 54 years, was eliminated in May after the paper released an LGBTQ issue. Its contents offered a wide range of coverage on LGBTQ topics, including an article about Pride Month and homophobia called “Pride and prejudice: LGBTQIA+,” according to the Grand Island Independent. Administration was vague about the reason for the Saga’s discontinuation, ultimately attributing it to “the school board and superintendent [being] unhappy with the last issue’s editorial content.”
While the paper’s termination was abrupt, it follows similar censorship by the school board from just the month before. After the school newspaper included students’ preferred names and pronouns in its April issue, district officials informed Saga assistant editor Emma Smith that the practice would be banned moving forward, and that students would only be allowed to use the names and pronouns assigned to them at birth. This led to the dead-naming of transgender student Marcus Pennell, a staff member of the paper, in the following issue. “It was the first time that the school had officially been, like, ‘We don’t really want you here,’” Pennell told the Grand Island Independent. “You know, that was a big deal for me.”
School board vice president Zach Mader suggested that if district taxpayers were to read the aforementioned editorials, “they would have been like, ‘Holy cow. What is going on at our school?’” Mader also suggested that the ban on the Saga was a long time coming. He told the Grand Island Independent that the board previously discussed “doing away” with the newspaper if the board wasn’t able to “control content” that it thought was “inappropriate.”
Northwest Public School’s apparent censorship of press freedom joins a larger national movement to further marginalize LGBTQ students by resisting inclusive ideologies. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that was passed in March (which the Saga’s LGBTQ issue criticized) bans the mere mention of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Books that discuss topics such as racism, LGBTQ experiences, and the Holocaust have similarly been pulled off library shelves in Texas and Oklahoma schools.
The Saga’s termination shows that those in power are not only worried about the so-called “indoctrination” of students into inclusive ideology, but fearful of what happens when it is the students themselves who are fighting for more expansive rights and a more socially just future. “Student journalism teaches students how to discern and investigate, build effective work based on verifiable facts and policies,” Sara Rips, legal counsel for ACLU of Nebraska, told the Grand Island Independent. “It sounds like a ham-fisted attempt to censor students and discriminate based on disagreement with perspectives and articles that were featured in the student newspaper.”
Freedom of the press will continue to be fraught territory for Northwest Public School student body. After the Viking Saga was stripped of its printing services in May, the board decided in June to gut the school’s entire journalism program.