Nebraska high school newspaper stirs controversy with articles on racist language

NEBRASKA — A high school principal was reinstated after being placed on administrative leave following the distribution of a student newspaper that included articles on racist language.

The Benson High School student newspaper, The Benson Gazette, devoted four pages of its April 10 issue to the discussion of race through news articles, editorials and cartoons, some of which reference the word “nigger.” One article analyzed the “N-word” by defining it as a derogatory term when ending in “er,” but becomes a friendly name when ending in “a.”

To warn readers, the newspaper included a disclaimer of its mature content. The newspaper was also taken to Principal Lisa Dale to gain approval of the “questionable content,” a requirement of the school district policy, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

On April 13, Dale was placed on administrative leave, but was reinstated Monday by Omaha Public Schools.

The district received phone calls from school administrators, teachers, parents and students complaining about the content of the articles as early as April 11, according to district spokesperson Luanne Nelson. Nelson could not confirm that the disciplinary action against Dale was connected to the content of the student newspaper.

The newspaper’s online publication was removed from the school’s Web site April 13 where the district placed an announcement concerning a district investigation: “Omaha Public Schools has never condoned and cannot support the actions which recently resulted in the inappropriate articles published in the Benson High Gazette.” The statement also said “unacceptable decision-making by staff has violated the standards set forth by the [district].”

Following that announcement, Dale was put on paid leave, according to Nelson. She said the district is still investigating the situation.

According to the World-Herald, Dale was contacted by the school district Sunday and was told “she could better serve the school and community by returning to her post.”

Dale did not return a call for comment.

“What we hope is that the lesson learned is that a high school newspaper is not produced in a bubble,” Nelson said. “That a high school newspaper goes to the community…and a dialogue probably needs to occur with more than just a journalism staff, regarding some controversial issues.”

Nebraska High School Press Association Executive Director John Bender said discussion of the topic is necessary, considering the school’s racial diversity and the fact that these terms are widely used “in music and in the streets.” For the 2006-2007 academic year, about 46 percent of the school population is black, about 41 percent is white, about 10 percent is Latino and Asian-Americans and American Indians make up less than 2 percent each, according to the school district.

“I think it will help white students understand why African-American students are so offended when they use it,” Bender said, “and I think it will help African-American students understand why it may be inappropriate for them to use it about other African-American students. This is obvious part of their culture. If it’s not the student newspaper, then were will it take place?”

Bender also said that the way in which the subject was discussed was appropriate because the newspaper was not using the “n-word” to describe any one person.

“This is the kind of thing that students need to talk about to understand what these words mean and what kinds of emotional impact they can have on the people who are using them,” Bender said. “Part of the process of getting an education is learning things for yourself.”

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer