School administrators shut down the student newspaper at Northwest High School in Grand Island, Nebraska, after its June issue featured, in addition to typical school paper stories about sports and retiring teachers, two articles related to LGBTQ issues, The Grand Island Independent reported.
The two articles related to LGBTQ issues were entitled
- Science of Gender
- The Don’t Say Gay Bill: Making Students Existing Controversial
An employee of the school district was quoted as saying that future issues had been canceled because “the school board and superintendent [were] unhappy with the last issue’s editorial content.”
Student newspapers don’t receive the same level of free speech protection given to an independent press, but still, they allow students to make an argument and to express their support for certain positions in writing. These are skills that should be taught in our schools. The fact that school administrators may not agree with the viewpoints being supported has nothing to do with a school’s mission.
Several states, including both Maryland and Illinois, have New Voices laws, which protect student journalists, according to the Student Press Law Center. Nebraska does not. At this point, it is unclear whether students at Northwest will seek to reinstate the journalism classes in which they were enrolled or the student newspaper.
What is not the least bit unclear, though, is the reason behind the censorship of the student voice in print. Adults who are not in favor of talking about anything LGBTQ-related aren’t about to allow people, especially students at a school they run, to make an opposing argument in a newspaper that tax dollars support.
Student newspapers—and I read a lot of them—often have grammar errors, bad word choices, stories that aren’t the least bit newsworthy, and so on. But they’re a window into what teenagers care about, how they spend the better part of their lives, and how they interact with adults, peers, and the world around them.
Although adults may think they know how to run schools, adult op-eds have little to no contact with the actual lives of teenagers. Student newspaper articles do, once you get past the bad-to-mediocre writing, which is not difficult for caring adults.
Never mind the censorship—I couldn’t care less about that, which is the stuff First Amendment lawyers spend their time on. What we need more of is a window into the schools we say we want to make better. Shutting down a student newspaper closes that window, and there’s no way this action can help anyone make schools better.