The Nebraska School Activity Association reversed their decision to have a state speech champion change his award-winning piece for an upcoming television program Best of the Best on NET.
Michael Barth, a senior from Gordon-Rushville High School, won the Class C1 poetry division at the NSAA competition in Kearney last weekend. 10/11 learned that NSAA deemed the content of the speech to be inappropriate and controversial and asked him to change it. The songs are "Same Love" and "Swingset."
The NSAA released a statement after an outcry of support for Barth. They said "The NSAA recently experienced media attention regarding a non-discrimination policy to protect the rights of students. In an attempt to divert negative attention from the “Best of the Best” NET speech production, a decision was made to focus on the students achievements and the activity of speech in Nebraska."
"We were encouraged by the amount of support for Michael and freedom of speech. The Executive Director in collaboration with the NSAA Board of Directors, Nebraska Educational Television and Gordon-Rushville High School administration has made the decision to allow Michael to deliver his poetry interpretation as originally performed at the NSAA Speech Championships."
"The intent of my decision was not to stifle freedom of speech, but rather to avoid any negative connotations for individuals within this statewide production,” said NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green. “The NSAA will continue to advocate for all students and promote equitable opportunities through activity participation.”
Barth's mother, Kim Buchan, says when Michael first learned that NSAA was asking him to change his speech he was immediately upset.
"He is having a moral struggle because he earned the rights to be in Best of the Best with this speech that he absolutely believes in and if he changes it he loses what he stands for, I think he'd rather not compete."
Buchan says she feels the NSAA president is behind the times, as he competed in front of Nebraska speech judges and was not critiqued on the issue.
"I think she is overreacting. This is something that's close to him. It supports his personal experience in life. He got second in speech about a boy with Cerebral Palsy, something close to him. This isn't for shock factor this is because he believes in it," said Buchan.
Buchan says she is proud of her son and the stance he has taken.
Gordon-Rushville School Superintendent Merrell Nelson says he supports Michael.
"Michael is more than capable of saying what he is trying to say with the poems he has chosen," said Nelson. He says he believes the issue is between Michael and the NSAA, but is happy and proud that the NSAA has given him this opportunity.
The ACLU sent a letter to the NSAA informing them that they are violating the free speech rights of the student. The ACLU asserts that the NSAA’s policy on student speech is unconstitutionally vague and that censoring this particular speech on any grounds is unconstitutional.
Michael has shown his gratitude for the support on his Facebook page, but was not available for comment.