UNO freshman Marcus Pennell, a former high school journalist, and the Nebraska High School Press Association are suing Grand Island Northwest Public Schools after shutting down the student newspaper for producing an LGBTQIA+ focused edition.
The lawsuit was filed on Friday, March 28, claiming that Grand Island Northwest Public Schools, as well as its superintendent, violated the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourteenth amendments after closing the Viking Saga newspaper last year.
“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,” Pennell said in a statement. “I was crushed.”
The Viking Saga staff were told about the shut down only three days after printing the June 2022 edition. The edition focused on LGBTQIA+ issues and topics, including articles on the history of pride month and opinion pieces on anti-LGBT laws.
According to the lawsuit, a school employee emailed the staff that the school would cancel the paper’s printing services “because the school board and superintendent are unhappy with the last issue’s editorial content.”
The lawsuit also states that the school district prohibited the Viking Saga student staff from using chosen names and pronouns. In March 2022, Pennell was told by Principal Tim Krupicka that they must use the names listed in the school’s grading system.
In the lawsuit, district board members are cited as reacting with hostility toward the edition. One board member emailed photos of the LGBTQIA+ articles to other members, asking, “has anyone read our school paper this month?”
Board of Education President Dan Leiser emailed back, saying, “I’m sure this is a revenge tactic from the pronoun thing a month or so ago. But I’m going back and forth in the field and I just keep getting more and more upset. I’m hot on this one, because it’s not ok. The national media does the same crap and I’ve had enough of it. No more school paper, in my opinion. You give someone an inch, they take a mile.”
In an interview with Local4 news, 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.”