This past June, the Northwest High School’s newspaper — The Viking Saga — in Grand Island, Nebraska, was disbanded by their school board. After their March issue was distributed, administration told the staff that everyone, including three transgender members, were required to use their birth names in their bylines. For the final issue, the entire staff abided by these guidelines, while also publishing two opinion pieces and a news story on the history of homophobia and the origin of Pride Month. In response to the content, the school’s administration shut down the newspaper program. The Eagle Edition strongly disagrees with the actions of the administration at Northwest High School and more broadly, the principle of strict censorship of student-run publications.
This instance of censorship and restriction is not the only one that has occurred recently. The 2021-2022 yearbook for Lyman High School in Longwood, Florida was censored with stickers placed over pictures portraying students protesting the Florida law — known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”— that prohibits the conversation of sexual orientation in classrooms. In Arkansas, a two-page year-in-review spread that mentioned the 2020 election, the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd was completely removed.
The purpose of student journalism is to write both factual and unbiased news stories and opinion-editorials regarding student, local, national and international issues freely. Student journalism gives students a voice. Student-produced newspapers, just as professional newspapers, are essential for a healthy democratic society. If issues continue to be strictly censored, we are unable to do our jobs.
As of right now, there are only 16 states that have laws that safeguard student publications. The safeguard law, New Voices, is a nonpartisan organization primarily led by students in journalism who fight legislatively against state laws of censorship. The group was started in 2018 by two newspaper advisers in Pennsylvania: Aaron Fitzpatrick from Freedom Area High School and Cyndi Hyatt from Conestoga High School. The goal of the movement is to protect student press freedom with state laws, aiming to counteract the laws made from the decisions of the Supreme Court case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier in January of 1988. In this case, the Supreme Court sided with the administration of Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis, Missouri to censor the newspaper of topics concerning divorce and teen pregnancy.
“The fact is that news is news, no matter how it makes people feel or if it may be what people consider controversial,” the staff of Freedom Area High School’s newspaper said in an editorial in 2020. “Stories that involve topics such as racism, politics, the LGBTQ+ community, sexism and equality are all topics that are important to student journalists but are often censored. However, ‘sensitive’ and controversial topics are good for a community to talk about… because it is important to learn and be aware of what is going on around you or in the world.”
Twenty states, including Texas, are currently making efforts to join the first 16, but that number is still too small. Nebraska was considering the legislative bill behind the New Voices campaign, but it died, weakening the hope of the future of scholastic journalism in Nebraska.
In journalism, we have to take risks — write about touchy, controversial subjects. But, at public schools such as Northwest High School and Lyman High School, students and programs are being stripped of their constitutional rights.
The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Northwest High School’s administration carried out the most extreme form of censorship by eliminating the newspaper program as a whole. The Eagle Edition stands with schools like Northwest and Lyman and believes that occurrences like these are unacceptable and are stripping fellow journalists of their rights. The community of student journalism needs to support one another and back the New Voices movement to regain the hope of getting back our constitutional rights.