NEWBERG, Ore. (KOIN) — Many parents hoped a controversial ban on Pride and Black Lives Matter symbols put in place by the Newberg-Dundee School Board would be overturned during a meeting Wednesday night.
But it wasn’t.
The motion to ban BLM and Pride symbols on school grounds — passed by the Newberg school board in a 4-3 vote on Aug. 10 — set off a firestorm of controversy. Those in favor of it said BLM and Pride symbols are political and have no place in public schools.
“Sometimes you hear something that just strikes you as fundamentally true,” said Vice-Chair Brian Shannon at the Aug. 10 meeting. “And you know, when I was listening to the people talking tonight, the thing that struck me — just gripped me when I heard it — was people make people feel safe, signs will never make people feel safe people are the ones that make people feel safe. And the great people who work in our schools are going to be the same people once we take out these politically divisive signs from our schools.”
The Newberg City Council voted 6-1 a week later to affirm its support for Mayor Rick Roger’s admonishment of the Newberg school board for its directive. The ACLU demanded a retraction of the ban in a letter sent to the board on Monday, saying it violates the U.S. and Oregon constitutions.
The school board’s four-person majority did not reconsider its decision but rather doubled down and hired outside legal counsel sympathetic to its goals of banning the symbols in classrooms.
The topic was up for discussion again during the school board’s virtual meeting Wednesday night. But there weren’t enough votes to rescind the ban and, despite school starting next week, the board voted to kick the can down the road in order to review the policy language.
“I move that the Newberg school board rescind the directive as mentioned and that we refer it to the policy committee,” said board member Rebecca Piros.
Newberg parent Erin McCarthy erected Pride and BLM billboards measuring 8 by 16 feet on her farm, visible from the high school football stadium, to show her outrage over the ban. McCarthy said she was one of many parents who were infuriated by the decision and hoped the board would overturn the ban during the Wednesday night meeting.
“Why are you doing this, why, what benefit does it have to our students for you to lob this grenade in an already chaotic, scary, confusing school year?” McCarthy asked the board.
McCarthy told KOIN 6 News she has decided in light of the board’s decision to put her first-grader in private school this year.
US Rep. Suzanne Bonamici joined those who condemned the recent actions by the school board, issuing a statement on August 26.
“Students need a welcoming and safe school environment, and all school leaders should strive every day to make sure students know they are valued and respected,” she wrote. “The Newberg school board’s move to ban Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ pride symbols in schools is antithetical to this bedrock value.”
KOIN 6 News has reached out to the Newberg superintendent, asking if he plans to uphold the ban when school starts next week.
The Oregon Department of Education shared the following statement with KOIN 6:
“The Oregon Department of Education recognizes that student health and safety are the cornerstone of education and that all students are entitled to a high-quality educational experience, free from discrimination or harassment based on perceived race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin, and without fear or hatred, racism or violence. All staff and leaders are also entitled to work in environments that are free from discrimination or harassment, and visitors should be able to participate in school activities without fear for their safety.
“The Oregon Department of Education has taken several steps to protect student health and safety and support all of Oregon’s students.
“Key advances include:
“The Oregon Department of Education declares that “Black Lives Matter” in order to reinforce that the lives of Black educators, staff, students, and everyone in school communities are just as valuable as anyone else’s life; and that Black students matter and belong in our classrooms, just like all other students. The department requests that all Oregon school districts, public charter schools, and education service districts affirm that “Black Lives Matter” by striving to make space in classrooms and within the school community for dialogue and support for issues of race and equity; and that Oregon school districts, public charter schools, and education service districts support educators and others who are making a special effort to let Black students and families know that they belong and are valued members of the school community.
“The LGBTQ2SIA+ Student Success Plan provides strategies and goals to create educational and social-emotional support for Oregon’s K-12 LGBTQ2SIA+ students who are at significantly high risk for bullying and harassment, suffering violence while at school, sexual assault, chronic absenteeism and suicidal ideation.
“The Every Student Belongs rule prohibits hate symbols, specifically three of the most recognizable symbols of hate in the U.S.—the swastika (outside of a religious context), the Confederate flag, and the noose. The temporary rule takes effect on September 18, 2020. It requires districts to adopt and implement policies and procedures that prohibit the use or display of the noose, swastika, or confederate flag in any program or school-sponsored activity except where used in teaching curricula that are aligned with the Oregon State Standards by January 1, 2021.”
KOIN 6 News partner Pamplin Media Group contributed to this report.