Northwest School District asks court to dismiss federal lawsuit over newspaper

Northwest School District asks court to dismiss federal lawsuit over newspaper
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 4:51 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2023 at 7:03 PM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - The attorneys for the Northwest Public School District have filed a motion to dismiss the federal court lawsuit it and Superintendent Jeff Edwards face over the ‘Viking Saga’ school paper.

The Nebraska Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Nebraska High School Press Association and former student Marcus Pennell back in March.

They claimed that the school district violated the First Amendment last year when they shut down the “Viking Saga” school paper, which they say happened after students covered LGBTQ+ topics in a June 2022 issue.

The school district says the decision was unrelated to that issue of the paper.

Last week, lawyers for the school district filed the motion to dismiss, citing multiple reasons.

In the court documents, the district says that Pennell was not a student at Grand Island Northwest at the time the district eliminated the school paper.

The brief says “for this reason, among others, Pennell lacks standing to sue and cannot show conduct that has objectively chilled his exercise of free speech.”

The argument says the district did not prevent him from writing or publishing articles in the ‘Viking Saga,’ nor could they do so in the future.

It goes on to say, that the ‘Viking Saga’ was not eliminated, as it was published three times during the second semester of the 2022-23 school year. The Viking Saga restarted in an online format with a new advisor.

Lastly, the brief states that claims against Dr. Edwards in his individual capacity are barred by qualified immunity. The brief cited a federal court decision which held that, “‘qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,’ and ‘protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” The brief goes on to state that, “As set forth above, it cannot be the case that Dr. Edwards violated any clearly established constitutional right of either Pennell or the Press Association by pausing the Newspaper class for a single semester.”

Court documents say on August 31, 2022, the district communicated to parents and guardians that the Newspaper class was not going to be offered during the first semester but might be added in the future depending on student interest, and that the ‘Viking Saga’ was “temporarily paused.”