Grand Island High School Paper is Shut Down Following Pride Month Issue

Lurye Baxa, Arts and Entertainment Editor

It seems like it’s just one thing after another these days, doesn’t it? 

In May of this year, the Northwest High School newspaper, the Viking Saga, in Grand Island published its final newspaper of the year. However, they had no idea it would also be the last paper ever.  

For the final issue of the school year, the staff of the Viking Saga decided to write a few articles about the LGBTQ+ community due to the upcoming Pride Month. This issue, which came out on May 16, included an editorial about the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida that also briefly spoke about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement. 

Three days later, the newspaper staff was informed that the paper would be shut down. 

The reason? Well, according to the Northwest Public Schools Board Vice President Zach Mader, it was all about control. The school board had been thinking about shutting down the paper for a while, especially if “we were not going to be able to control content that we saw [as] inappropriate,” according to Mader. 

“The very last issue that came out this year, there was… a little bit of hostility among some,” Mader said. “There were editorials that were essentially, I guess I would say, LGBTQ.” 

Mike Heistand, who is the senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center, has been in contact with the journalism students and staff at Northwest High School for a while. He described this as a textbook censorship case. 

“It made [school administrators] uncomfortable,” Heistand said to Insider. “I think they were concerned with perhaps community reaction to it, I’m not sure. But their response to things that the students were writing that they didn’t like was simply to shut the entire program down. You don’t see a much more aggressive form of censorship than that.” 

This wasn’t the first time that school administrators intervened with the Saga. 

Around April, the administrators contacted the journalism staff in order to tell them that they would now be forced to use their birthnames in their bylines instead of their chosen names. 

The journalism staff had at least three transgender students according to the New York Times. 

However, in my own experience, this does not only affect transgender students. My current first name was originally my middle name, and I began to go by it when I was 13. Now I was lucky enough to go to a high school where we were allowed to use chosen names in our school paper, but that obviously isn’t the case for everyone. 

There is no law or rule that demands journalists of any age to use their legal names in their bylines.  

The Viking Saga was officially shut down in June. According to Heistand, the students were not notified of this until they returned to school last month. Their schedules were changed without their knowledge as well. 

Two weeks ago, the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the district asking them to reinstate Northwest High’s newspaper and journalism program. 

“The district’s unlawful attempts to quash student journalism and student opinions violate students’ rights to freedom of speech and equal protection under the Nebraska and United States Constitutions, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” the letter said. 

Northwest High School is not the only school to clamp down on anything LGBTQ+ related content. 

There are obviously issues with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida. However, many other schools are banning books with LGBTQ+ themes in the library. Lyman High School in central Florida also delayed the distributions of last year’s yearbooks because there were photos of students protesting the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

There needs to be less hatred when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. As a queer person, I have dealt with bullying and discrimination because of my sexuality. But this does not need to last. 

A person using a different name or different pronouns or dating somebody of the same sex is not a big deal. Frankly, it’s also nobody’s business.  

A newspaper is a newspaper. They are simply writing about the news and giving their own opinions in some instances. By taking away that opportunity for these students and for anybody in America, you are also taking away somebody’s freedom of speech.  

The Viking Saga was shut down because a school district did not like a student’s opinion. That is a violation of that student’s rights and of the rights of everyone else on that staff. 

Things like this need to be stopped.