NEWBERG, Ore. (KOIN) — By a 4-3 vote, the Newberg School Board passed a re-written and more narrowly focused ban on political symbols on school grounds — Black Lives Matter and Pride symbols, flags or t-shirts.
Now the ban focuses on teachers and staff alone. But it expanded the banned displays to anything that is “political, quasi-political or controversial.”
The board’s conservative majority originally passed the ban in August. But after a tidal wave of public backlash and open criticism from local and state leaders, the board re-examined their decision.
Tuesday night the board agreed to vote on whether to rescind the ban — and the tension in the virtual meeting was overt.
“The policy language before us essentially has two parts, the first part is model policy language from the OSBA and long and short it simply says teachers may express their views in the course of exploring approved curriculum but they are not to represent those views to be the official viewpoint of the district,” board member Brian Shannon said.
“The second part is also fairly straightforward. It simply says district employees will not use district facility space to hang up symbols of their own political or ideological viewpoints.”
The flags of the US and Oregon are not prohibited.
Board members Brandy Penner and Rebecca Piros locked horns with Shannon before the vote.
Rebecca Piros asked about teachers who are in same-sex relationships and if they could have a photo on their desk. Shannon said a photo is not political.
“So being gay is not political but being proud of being gay is? Is that where the line is?” Penner asked.
“That’s not what I said,” Shannon replied.
“I’m just trying to understand how — ” Penner said.
“No, you aren’t,” Shannon interrupted.
“Yes, I am, Brian. I’m trying to understand how a same-sex couple can have a photo but to have a flag, that’s crossing the line,” Penner said. “We know that legally this policy is a wreck when it comes to any kind of actual putting it into practice.”
Piros circled back to the US and Oregon flags being allowed and wondered if a military flag or a POW flag would be allowed.
“If you read the policy it does not say only the American flag and Oregon state flag, it expressly says that they are not covered by this policy,” Shannon said. “But it does not say they are the only things that can be hung up.”
But the lines were already set and minds were made up.
“You 4 have already clearly made your choice. This is clearly not a functioning business meeting,” board member Brandy Penner said. “This is an after-party of 4 members, so I say let’s just vote, get it over with.”
Hours before the board meeting began teachers, parents and students rallied during rush hour, chanting and waving BLM and Pride flags as cars passed through the intersection. The rally was organized by the Newberg Teachers Union.
Union President Jennifer Schneider told KOIN 6 News she had concerns the board wouldn’t revoke the ban but would only change the language.
“We are watching what they’re doing because they keep shifting the language,” Schneider said.
That’s exactly what happened.
The policy passed states, in part, “District employees will not use district facility space to hang up symbols of their own political or ideological viewpoints.”
The board’s conservative majority considers BLM and Pride symbols to be political.
Shortly after the vote, the teacher’s union announced they will continue their path to sue the district over the policy and have also endorsed the recall effort of Brian Shannon.
“We know that it’s not about students, we know that it’s not about staff, we know it’s about outside extremism and political agendas,” Penner said. “It’s going to continue to intensify this divide that’s in our community. And that’s the point and clearly after the last vote you 4 are not at all interested in bringing this community together.”
The district has been in the spotlight for a series of unflattering incidents.
Mabel Rush Elementary School staff member Lauren Pefferle showed up to work in Blackface in mid-September, saying she was dressed as Rosa Parks and protesting the school district’s vaccine mandate. She was fired a week later.
Before the Blackface incident, Newberg High School students were discovered to be participating in a racist “slave trade” on Snapchat.