A former high school journalist and the Nebraska High School Press Association sued Friday over a school district's shutdown of the school newspaper after it published an LGBTQ-focused edition.
The federal lawsuit claims Grand Island Northwest Public Schools and its superintendent violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment in May when it closed the Viking Saga newspaper at Grand Island Northwest High School, which has about 700 students. The district later agreed to bring the newspaper back in digital form.
“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,” Marcus Pennell, the former student suing the district, said in a statement. “I was crushed."
An email message left with the school district's superintendent, Jeffrey Edwards, was not immediately returned. Edwards last year called the shutdown “an administrative decision."
Saga newspaper staff were informed of the newspaper’s elimination three days after printing of the June edition, which included an article titled, “Pride and prejudice: LGBTQIA+,” on the origins of Pride Month and the history of homophobia. It also included an editorial opposing a Florida law, dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay," that bans some lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity and
A May 22 email from a school employee canceling the paper’s printing services said it was “because the school board and superintendent are unhappy with the last issue’s editorial content.” Some school board members publicly stated their objection to the Saga’s LGBTQ content.
The lawsuit also states that Pennell, who is transgender, was told in March 2022 that he and others could use only names assigned to them at birth in their bylines and that they could not list their pronouns.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the district violated the law as well as unspecified damages. Grand Island is a city of about 52,300 residents about 150 miles (241 kilometers) west of Omaha.