Northwest journalism curriculum cut short




Lily Harper, Magazine writer

In Grand Island, Nebraska, Northwest High School has disbanded their newspaper of 54 years, The Viking Saga. Along with it, the journalism class has also come to an end. There have been many allegations about the school having prejudicial reasons for the class coming to an end.

When initially questioned, Superintendent Jeff Edwards said the district was looking at some different curriculum. He redirected, saying along with him, the people in charge of making or breaking classes is the Director of Teaching and Learning, Jeanette Ramsey, and the principal, Paul Smith.

Subsequently, when Ramsey was questioned, she agreed that she was the main curriculum decision maker. Despite that, Ramsey denied having anything to do with the termination, instead saying the decision was made by Edwards and Smith.

Jessica Votipka, a local writer for The Grand Island Independent, wrote a piece about The Viking Saga. In the article, she stated, “On Sunday, May 22, a Northwest School District employee emailed the Grand Island Independent press and advertising teams to cancel the company’s Northwest Viking Saga printing services.”

Saga printed their final issue on May 16. Students and staff found out on May 19 that their paper was done.

A Northwest staff member said they received an email which informed them that the cut was a result of the school board and the superintendent being unhappy with the last issue’s editorial content.

“It sounds like a ham-fisted attempt to censor students and discriminate based on disagreement with perspectives and articles that were featured in the student news,” said Sara Rips, legal council for American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

The last publication was the staff’s June issue titled, “Pride and prejudice: LGBTQIA+.” The name ties in with the month itself. June was declared Pride Month in 1999 by former President Bill Clinton while in office.

The Viking Saga staff took that as an opportunity to educate readers about the LGBTQIA+ community and the history of homophobia. However, that was not the only content in the paper.

Some other articles included an explanation of the class registration process, highlights of accomplishments by the Future Business Leaders of America chapter, and told the story of a group of siblings’ adoption.

Rips said, “Student journalism teaches students how to discern and investigate, build effective work based on verifiable facts, and policies.”

According to students, in April 2022 Saga staff also received criticism for going public with their preferred name and pronouns in articles and bylines. Students were told by district officials that they were to only use their birth names in the future.

District officials have declined to give an exact reason or date. The state considers the decision a local matter, although many districts let the superintendent handle it.

Upon further inquiry, Edwards said disbanding Saga was an administrative decision.

“The decision by the administration to eliminate the student news violates students’ right to free speech, unless the school can show a legitimate educational reason for removing the option to participate in a class … that publishes award-winning material,” stated Nebraska Press Association attorney, Max Kautsch.